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THE LIBRARY OF CHRISTIAN CLASSICS 


n /;^y 



Augustine 


Augustine 



General Editors 


John Baillie (1886-1960) served as President of the World 
Council of Churches, a member of the British Council of 
Churches, Moderator of the General Assembly of the 
Church of Scotland, and Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at 
the University of Edinburgh. 

John T. McNeill (1885-1975) was Professor of the History of 
European Christianity at the University of Chicago and then 
Auburn Professor of Church History at Union Theological 
Seminary in New York. 


Henry P. Van Dusen (1897-1975) was an early and influen- 
tial member of the World Council of Churches and served 
at Union Theological Seminary in New York as Roosevelt 
Professor of Systematic Theology and later as President. 



THE LIBRARY OF CHRISTIAN CLASSICS 


Augustine 

Earlier Writings 


Edited and translated by 

J. H. S. Burleigh 




© 1953 SCM Press 


Paperback reissued 2006 in the United States of America by 
Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 

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ISBN-13: 978-0-664-24162-9 
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GENERAL EDITORS 5 PREFACE 


The Christian Church possesses in its literature an abundant 
and incomparable treasure. But it is an inheritance that 
must be reclaimed by each generation. The Library of 
Christian Classics is designed to present in the English 
language, and in twenty-six volumes of convenient size, a 
selection of the most indispensable Christian treatises written 
prior to the end of the sixteenth century. 

The practice of giving circulation to writings selected for 
superior worth or special interest was adopted at the beginning 
of Christian history. The canonical Scriptures were themselves 
a selection from a much wider literature. In the Patristic 
era there began to appear a class of w orks of compilation (often 
designed for ready reference in controversy) of the opinions 
of well-reputed predecessors, and in the Middle Ages many 
such works were produced. These medieval anthologies actually 
preserve some noteworthy materials from works otherwise lost. 

In modern times, with the increasing inability even of those 
trained in universities and theological colleges to read Latin 
and Greek texts with ease and familiarity, the translation of 
selected portions of earlier Christian literature into modem 
languages has become more necessary than ever; while the 
wide range of distinguished books written in vernaculars such 
as English makes selection there also needful. The efforts that 
have been made to meet this need are too numerous to be noted 
here, but none of these collections serves the purpose of the 
reader who desires a library of representative treatises spanning 
the Christian centuries as a whole. Most of them embrace 
only the age of the Church Fathers, and some of them have 
iong been out of print. A fresh translation of a work already 

9 



10 GENERAL EDITORS’ PREFACE 

translated may shed much new light upon its meaning. This 
is true even of Bible translations despite the work of many 
experts through the centuries. In some instances old translations 
have been adopted in this series, but wherever necessary or 
desirable, new ones have been made. Notes have been supplied 
where these were needed to explain the author’s meaning. The 
introductions provided for the several treatises and extracts 
will, we believe, furnish welcome guidance. 

John Baillie 
John T. McNeill 
Henry P. Van Dusen 



CONTENTS 

PREFACE ..... 

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page 

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THE SOLILOQUIES ( Soliloquid ) 
Introduction . 

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ft 

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17 

19 

Analysis 

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20 

Text .... 

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m 

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23 

THE TEACHER (. De MdgistrO ) 
Introduction . 

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ft 

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64 

64 

Analysis 

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66 

Text .... 

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m 

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69 

on free will {De Libero Arbitrio ) 
Introduction . 

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102 

106 

Analysis 

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ft 

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107 

Text .... 

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“3 

of true religion (. De Vera Religione) 
Introduction . 

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218 

222 

Analysis 

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223 

Text .... 

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225 

the usefulness of belief {De Utilitate Credendi) 
Introduction ..... 

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284 

287 

Analysis 

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289 

Text .... 

1 1 

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291 



12 


CONTENTS 


the nature of the good ( De Natura Boni) 324 

Introduction . . . . . . *325 

Text ........ 326 

faith and the creed (De Fide et Symbolo ) 349 

Introduction . . . . . . . 351 

Text ........ 353 

to simplician — on various questions, book i (De Diversis 

Quaestionibus) 370 

Introduction ....... 372 

Text ........ 376 

BIBLIOGRAPHY ........ 407 

INDEX 409 



PREFACE 

The editor of a volume entitled Augustine : Earlier Writings 
would seem to be faced with the necessity in the first place 
of determining his terminus ad quern . This is not an altogether 
simple matter. All the extant writings are subsequent to the 
decisive event of his life, his conversion in 386, described in 
Books VII and VIII of the Confessions . Now the Confessions 
were written some fourteen years after the event, and many 
scholars have maintained that they give a highly romanticized 
version of what actually took place. Relying on works written 
before 391, and especially on those of the Cassiciacum period, 
they have asserted, in Alfaric’s words, that it was “to Neo- 
platonism that he was converted, rather than to the Gospel. 55 
They have pointed out that abandonment of the world for the 
life of philosophic contemplation was entirely in the Platonist 
manner, and that St. Augustine devoted himself, with a group 
of like-minded friends, not to the study of the Bible or of speci- 
fically Christian doctrines, but to the discussion of general 
philosophic questions, increasingly in the light of the Enneads 
of Plotinus. Of the growing influence of Plotinus upon his 
thought Alfaric has brought together an impressive mass of de- 
tailed evidence. From this point of view his ordination to the 
presbyterate in 391 marks the end of his early period. 

It is true, of course, that there was development in St. Augus- 
tine’s thought, and that his ordination marks an important 
stage in it. His call to become a “minister of God’s Word and 
Sacrament” necessitated a closer and more continuous study of 
Scripture, and with that would come a strengthening of his 
grasp on Biblical truth, and a profounder acquaintance with 
Christian doctrine. But that there was anything like an 

!3 



PREFACE 


14 

abandonment of philosophy in favour of theology, or any easy 
substitution of faith in place of reason, is disproved by the 
manifest continuity of his central ideas before and after 391. 
The Cassiciacum Dialogues must not be taken as reflecting fully 
his intellectual and spiritual activity during that period. In part 
they are exercises in philosophical disputation for the training 
of his two young pupils. But also they give clear indications of 
devotional exercises and Scripture study going on at that time. 
He was certainly making a careful study of the Epistles of St. 
Paul, in which for some time already he had been deeply 
interested. Due weight must also be given to the passage 
( Contra Academ. III. xix. 43) in which he says: “No one doubts 
that we are impelled to learn by the twofold forces of authority 
and reason. I have determined henceforth never to depart from 
the authority of Christ, for I find none more valid. But as re- 
gards that which must be pursued with subtle reasoning, my 
disposition now is impatiently to long to apprehend the truth 
not only by faith but also with the understanding; and I am 
confident that meantime I shall find in the Platonists something 
that is not incompatible with our [Christian] sacred things.” 
Here his programme is announced. After laying the spectre of 
academic doubt with the argument, among others, that doubt 
itself implies a standard of certainty, he is going on to work out 
a system of Christian philosophy in which the articles of the 
Christian faith will be interpreted to the understanding with 
the aid of clues that Platonism will supply. Before 39 1 this had 
been achieved. The philosophy then arrived at was, in its main 
features, to be his for the rest of his life. When he wrote the 
Retractations only minor details were found requiring correction. 

In the Retractations St. Augustine himself marks the division 
between his early and his later writings. That work is in two 
Books, of which the former reviews his writings previous to his 
elevation to the episcopate in 395/6; and the second begins with 
a review of his answers to the Questions of Simplicianus, written 
“at the beginning of my episcopate.” To this work he frequently 
refers later as setting forth his final understanding of the 
Pauline doctrine of grace. Here if anywhere we may choose to 
fix the point at which the “earlier” gives place to the “later” 
Augustine, remembering that any such choice is somewhat 
arbitrary. 

Of the numerous works written before 395 naturally a selec- 
tion had to be made. Some of them are already available in 
English translations, and weight was given to this considera- 



PREFACE 


15 

tion. In spite, however, of the fact that the Soliloquies have been 
beautifully translated with Notes and Introduction by Rose 
Elizabeth Cleveland (Williams and Norgate, London, 1910) its 
claim to be included here seemed irresistible. Of the De Libero 
Arbitrio there is an American translation, but, as it is not widely 
accessible, it too is included. On the other hand the absence of 
a translation determined the inclusion of the De Natura Boni , in 
spite of its date, in preference to the “Reply to the Funda- 
mental Epistle of Manes,” which will be found in the Edinburgh 
translation (T. and T. Clark). It has an interest of its own in 
the attempt there made to give Scripture proofs for a meta- 
physic essentially Neoplatonist. Reluctantly it was decided to 
include none of the anti-Donatist works, partly because the 
more important ones are later than 395, and are already avail- 
able in translation, but also because they represent an aspect of 
St. Augustine’s thought and work, important no doubt, but 
lying somewhat apart from the main stream of his develop- 
ment. The present selection is offered in the hope that it may 
give an adequate representation of the working out of the 
system, metaphysical, epistemological, ethical and withal 
Biblical, which may justly be called “Augustinianism.” 

To the translation of each work there has been prefixed St. 
Augustine’s own review of it in the Retractations , and a brief 
Introduction; while to facilitate reference, and to indicate the 
plan of the argument an analysis of each work has been given 
where it appeared necessary. 

John H. S. Burleigh. 

University of Edinburgh . 




The Soliloquies 

St. Augustine's Review of the Soliloquies. Retractations J, IV 

i. Meantime I wrote two other books on matters touching my 
earnest quest for truth concerning problems whose solution was 
my chief desire. They were written as a dialogue between my- 
self and Reason, as if there were two of us present, though 
actually I was alone. To this work I gave the name Soliloquies. 
It remained unfinished. In the First Book the question was: 
What kind of man he ought to be who wishes to lay hold on 
wisdom, which is grasped by the mind and not by bodily sense; 
and the answer was in a measure made clear. At the end of the 
book it was concluded as the result of a logical proof that things 
which truly are, are immortal. In the Second Book there is a 
long argument about the immortality of the soul, but the sub- 
ject was not fully dealt with. 

2. In these Books there are some things of which I do not 
approve. I do not approve of what I said in my prayer: “God 
who wiliest not that any should know the truth but those that 
are pure.” It could be replied to this that many who are not pure 
know many true things. It was not defined what was the truth 
that none but the pure could know, nor indeed what knowing is. 
And there is the sentence: “God whose kingdom is this whole 
world which sense knows not.” If the relative clause is to be taken 
as referring to God, some words ought to have been added, for 
example, “whom the sense of a mortal body knows not.” If it was 
meant that the world was not known by sense, the world must 
be understood to be the future world in which there will be a 
new heaven and a new earth. Even so, I should have added the 
words “of the mortal body.” But at that time I was still using 
the word, “sense,” to express what is properly to be called “bodily 
sense.” I need not repeat continually what I have just said, but 

A.E.W. — 2 17 



l8 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

it should be remembered wherever that expression occurs in my 
writings. 

3. Where I have said of the Father and the Son that “he who 
begets and he who is begotten is one/’ I ought to have said “are 
one/ 5 for the Truth says openly “I and my Father are one. 55 Nor 
am I satisfied with the statement that when God is known in 
this life the soul is already happy, except, of course, by 
hope. Again the statement: “Not by one way only is wisdom 
approached, 55 does not sound well; as if there were another way 
besides Christ, who said: I am the Way. This offence to reli- 
gious ears should have been avoided. Christ is the Way univer- 
sally, and these are different ways of which we sing in the 
psalm: “Show me thy ways, O Lord, and teach me thy paths. 55 In 
the sentence: “These sensible things are to be utterly avoided, 55 
care should have been taken to avoid being thought to hold the 
opinion of the false philosopher Porphyry, who said everything 
corporeal is to be avoided. Of course, I did not say “all sensible 
things 55 but “these sensible things, 55 meaning corruptible things. 
But it would have been better to have said so. Sensible things 
which are corruptible will not exist in the new heaven and the 
new earth of the age to come. 

4. Again (in Bk. II, xx, 35) I said that those who are edu- 
cated in the liberal arts doubtless, in learning them, draw them 
out from the oblivion which has overwhelmed them, or dig them 
out, as it were. I do not approve of this. When even untrained 
persons, suitably questioned, are able to return correct answers 
about some of the arts, a more credible reason is that they have 
according to their natural capacity the presence of the light of 
eternal reason. Hence they catch a glimpse of immutable 
truth. The reason is not that they once knew it and have for- 
gotten, as Plato and others like him have thought. Against their 
opinion I have argued in De Trinitate , Bk. XII, as far as the sub- 
ject of that work gave me occasion. The Soliloquies begin with 
the words: Volventi mihi multa ac varia . 



The Soliloquies 

INTRODUCTION 

I n De Ordine (I. iii. 6) St. Augustine tells us of 
his habit, during the sojourn at Cassiciacum, of lying awake 
in bed for half the night thinking his own thoughts, undis- 
turbed by the two young pupils for whose education he was 
responsible, and for whose philosophical awakening the three 
disputations of that period were in part designed. The Soliloquies , 
we may suppose, represent these private meditations and show 
us the kind of question that he felt to be most urgent. But they 
also reveal the manner of man he was in the crucial period be- 
tween his conversion and his baptism. In this respect they invite 
comparison with the Confessions . No doubt the Soliloquies must 
suffer thereby. The subject, God and the soul, is fundamentally 
the same, but the treatment is incomparably narrower, being 
primarily metaphysical rather than biographical. Nevertheless 
here too his spiritual history has a place; the cultivation of the 
liberal arts, here regarded more favourably than in the Con- 
fessions ; the reading of the Hortensius with the deep impression 
it made upon him; the influence of Ambrose; his ill-health; his 
abandonment of the world, riches, fame and wife; the con- 
scientious examination of his moral state, with the claim to have 
progressed and the admission that temptation was not wholly 
overcome. There is here no philosophic calm. With all the 
Neoplatonic colouring, there is a quite un-Plotinian intensity 
of feeling, the restless heart of the Confessions that can find rest 
only in God. This passionate religious quest really dominates 
the work in spite of the weary stretches of inconclusive argu- 
ment, in logical proof of the immortality of the soul, which 
occupy so much of the Second Book. The whole is conceived in 
a framework of prayer. If the lengthy opening prayer, made up 

*9 



20 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


of phrases gathered from Plotinus and from the Bible, may seem 
to be overloaded, it must be regarded as his sincere and earnest 
confession of faith. It is remarkable how little in the Soliloquies 
had to be retracted later. Only one major correction had to be 
made, viz., the substitution for the Platonic doctrine of reminis- 
cence of the genuinely Augustinian doctrine of Divine 
Illumination. 


ANALYSIS 
Book I 


i, i. Introduction. 

2-6. Prayer of Invocation. 

Enumeration of the attributes, perfections, and gracious acts 
of God. “I spoke not what I knew, but what I had gathered 
from many quarters and committed to memory, and in which 
I have put such faith as I was able.” 

ii, 7 — v, ii. Knowledge of God a Unique form of Knowledge. 
(7) I desire to know God and the soul. Nothing else besides. 
But knowledge of God is unique. (8) It is quite unlike sense- 
knowledge. Even knowledge of one’s best friend is no ade- 
quate analogy. (9) Plato and Plotinus may have spoken true 
things about God without knowing him. (10) Knowledge of 
mathematical truth is real knowledge, but (12) is also inade- 
quate, for it does not lead to beatitude. “The intelligible 
beauty of God is superior to the certain truths of mathematics.” 

vi, 12 — viii, 15. Analogy of Sensual and Intelligible Vision. 
(12) Common vision requires (a) possession of sound eyes, 
(b) the act of directing them towards an object. So, with the 
vision of God, the mind (a) must have sound eyes that can 
look beyond temporal things. They must be healed by faith, 
hope and love. (13) ( b ) It must direct its regard to the right 
object, i.e., it must have right reason, which again demands 
faith, hope and love. (14) When the vision of God has been 
attained these three will still be required in this life, but in 
the life to come faith becomes knowledge, hope becomes pos- 
session, only love must remain and increase. (15) As in the 
sensible world all objects to be seen must be illumined, so 
also in the intelligible world. As the sun is to the sensible 
world, so is God to the intelligible world. 

ix, 16 — xiv, 26. Examination of his Moral State. 

(16) He still fears pain, death and loss of friends, but claims 



21 


THE SOLILOQUIES 

to have made progress in the moral life. (17) Since reading 
the Hortensius , fourteen years before, he has ceased to desire 
riches. He has recently come to despise fame and marriage. 
Pleasures of the table do not entice him. (18) Riches, fame, 
wife, might still be desirable but only as means to the cultiva- 
tion of wisdom. (19) They are not desired for their own sake 
and therefore cannot be called cupidities. (20) So with friend- 
ships, health, life itself and even immortality. (21) Bodily 
pain distracts the mind and may be the chief evil, but it can 
be endured. (22) Why then is wisdom withheld? (23) Long 
training is necessary, just as eyes must be gradually accus- 
tomed to look at the sun. This is the function of the school 
disciplines. (24) (Next day) “When you achieve the condi- 
tion of finding no delight at all in earthly things, in that 
moment you will have wisdom.” (25-6) Proof that sensual 
temptation still has power over him. 
xv, 27-30. Epilogue. 

(28) Truth is eternal, and (29) must exist in something 
equally eternal. Whatever truly exists must exist eternally. 
(30) Augustine will ponder this and pray for power to under- 
stand its import. 


Book II 

i, 1. The Problem stated anew. 

Augustine knows that he exists, lives and has intelligence, 
and that ignorance is misery. He wants to have it proved 
( a ) that he will live eternally, and ( b ) that he will know 
eternally, [(b) is not dealt with in the Soliloquies , but in its 
sequel, De Immortalitate Animae.\ 

ii, 2 — v, 8. Truth and Falsehood in Sense-knowledge. 

(2) Truth is logically indestructible, but (3) the soul per- 
ceives reality by means of the senses which are deceptive. 
Falsehood is that which appears to the percipient other than 
it truly is. (4) If you allow that falsehood is inevitable and 
eternal as truth, and that it can only be perceived by a 
sentient, i.e., living, soul, the soul is proved to be immortal! 
(5) Without a percipient there can be neither truth nor false- 
hood, and (7) on these terms there is no escape from 
solipsism. 

vi, 9 — x, 18. Truth and Falsehood inevitably intertwined in 
Sense-knowledge. 

(10) The false has some resemblance to the true, exemplified 



22 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

by a classification of all kinds of resemblance. (13) But the 
false is also unlike the true. (16) Resemblance may be in- 
tended to deceive, but it can also be intended harmlessly to 
amuse. (17) Painters, sculptors, artists generally, try to pro- 
duce imitations of the true. (18) Roscius is a real man, but in 
order to be a true tragedian he must be a false Hecuba, 
Priam or the like. But we must seek an absolute truth un- 
mixed with falsehood. 

xi, 19 — xiii, 24. The School Disciplines teach absolute Truth. 
(19) The school disciplines are true without admixture of 
falsehood, because they teach ordered scientific knowledge. 
Dialectic with its definitions and divisions is the norm, and 
may be called truth itself. (20) Even literary studies, though 
they deal with the falsehoods of poetry and fables, deal with 
them in an objective way, giving ordered knowledge about 
them. (22) A quality may inhere in a subject as essence or as 
accident. That which exists inseparably in a subject cannot 
exist when the subject is destroyed. (23) Soul being essentially 
life cannot admit of death, though there is the depressing 
analogy of light which may not admit of darkness, but may 
be removed to give place to darkness. (24) The school dis- 
ciplines are truth. They exist in the mind. Therefore the mind 
is immortal. 

xiv, 25-26. Further Difficulties. 

(25) The argument is over-subtle. (26) We have no books, 
and friends who might have helped are absent. Ambrose 
could have solved the problem but perhaps did not even 
know there was a problem. 

xv, 27 — xix, 33. Recapitulation. 

(28) Truth is indestructible. (29-30) Truth and falsehood, 
resemblance and difference. (31) Problem of the void. 
(32) Matter, form and mathematical figures. (33) Mathe- 
matical figures transcend all material things which imitate 
them but do not fully exemplify them. They are in the mind 
and they are eternal. Therefore the mind is eternal. 

xx, 34 to the end. Epilogue. 

(34) Phenomena of memory and forgetfulness. (35) Know- 
ledge may be Reminiscence. At all events it has nothing to 
do with the senses but belongs to the mind or reason. (36) The 
problem of the eternal life of the soul has been solved as far 
as possible. There remains that of its eternal possession of 
intelligence. 



The Soliloquies 

THE TEXT 

Book I 

i, i. For long I had been turning over in my mind many 
various thoughts. For many days I had been earnestly seeking 
to know myself and my chief good and what evil was to be 
shunned. Suddenly someone spoke to me, whether it was my- 
self or someone else from without or from within I know not. 
Indeed, to know that is my main endeavour. At any rate some- 
one, let us call him Reason, said to me: Suppose you have dis- 
covered some truth. To whom will you entrust it in order that 
you may proceed to further thoughts? Augustine .— To my 
memory, I suppose. Reason .— Can your memory properly pre- 
serve all your thoughts. Augustine . — That would be difficult, nay 
impossible. Reason . — Then you must write it down. But what 
do you do when your health will not allow the labour of writ- 
ing? These thoughts must not be dictated, for they require 
complete solitude. A. — True. I do not know what I am to do, 
then. R . — Pray for health and for aid to attain to what you 
desire; and write this down that you may become more spirited 
in your quest. Then briefly summarize your conclusions in a 
few short theses. Do not look to attract a multitude of readers. 
This will be sufficient for the few who share your fellowship. 
A . — I shall do as you say. 

2. O God, Creator of the universe, give me first that I may 
pray aright, then that I may conduct myself worthily of being 
heard by thee, and finally that I may be set free by thee. God, 
by whom all things come into existence which by themselves 
would not exist; who permittest not to perish even that which 
destroys itself; who out of nothing didst create this world which 
the eyes of all perceive to be most beautiful; who doest no evil 
so that existence is good because it is thy work; who showest 

«3 



24 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

that evil is nothing to the few who take refuge in the truth; by 
whom the universe even with its sinister aspects is perfect; by 
whom there is no absolute disharmony because bad and good 
together harmonize; whom everything capable of loving loves 
consciously or unconsciously; in whom are all things yet so that 
thou art unharmed by the baseness, malice or error of any of 
thy creatures; who hast willed that none but the pure can know 
the truth; Father of Truth, of Wisdom, of the True and Perfect 
Life, of Beatitude, of the Good and Beautiful, of the Intelligible 
Light, F ather of our awakening and of our illumination, of the 
sign by which we are admonished to return to thee. 

3. Thee I invoke, O God, the Truth, in, by and through whom 
all truths are true; the Wisdom, in, by and through whom all 
are wise who are wise; the True and Perfect Life, in, by and 
through whom live all who live truly and perfectly; the Beati- 
tude, in, by and through whom all the blessed are blessed; the 
Good and the Beautiful, in, by and through whom all good and 
beautiful things have these qualities; the Intelligible Light, in, 
by and through whom all intelligible things are illumined; 
whose kingdom is this whole world unknown to corporeal 
sense; whose kingdom gives the Law also to these mundane 
realms; from whom to be turned is to fall; to whom to be 
turned is to rise; in whom to abide is to stand fast; from whom to 
depart is to die; to whom to return is to revive; in whom to 
dwell is to live; whom no man loses unless he be deceived; whom 
no man seeks unless he has been admonished; whom no man 
finds unless he has been purified; whom to abandon is to perish; 
to reach out to whom is to love; to see whom is true possession. 
I invoke thee, O God, to whom faith calls us, hope lifts us, and 
charity unites us; by whom we overcome the enemy and are 
delivered from utter destruction; by whom we are admonished 
to awake; by whom we distinguish good from evil and shun evil 
and follow after good; by whom we yield not to adversities; our 
rightful Lord, whom we rightly serve; by whom we learn that 
those things are alien which once we thought were ours and 
that those things are ours which once we thought were alien; 
by whom we do not cleave to the delights and enticements of 
wicked men, and are delivered from becoming insignificant 
through attention to trifles; by whom our better part is not left 
subject to our lower part; by whom death is swallowed up in 
victory; who convertest us to thyself; who divestest us of what is 
not. that thou mayest clothe us with what is; who hearest and 
defendest us and leadest us into all truth; who speakest to us all 



THE SOLILOQUIES 25 

good words and neither makest us nor allowest us to be made 
foolish; who recallest us to the Way, bringest us to the Door and 
earnest it to be opened to them that knock; who givest us the 
Bread of Life and causest us to thirst after that water of which 
having drunk, we thirst no more; who reprovest the world con- 
cerning sin, righteousness and judgment; by whom unbelievers 
do not distress us, and we repudiate the error of those who think 
that souls have no merit with thee; by whom we serve not the 
weak and beggarly elements. God, who purgest us and pre- 
parest us for divine rewards, come propitiously to my aid. 

4. In all that I say come to my aid, thou who art alone God, 
one substance eternal and true, where there is no strife, no con- 
fusion, no transition, no lack, no death, but absolute concord, 
absolute clearness, constancy, plenitude, life, where nothing is 
lacking, nothing redundant, and where he who begets and he 
who is begotten are one. God, whom all serve, and whom every 
good soul obeys; by whose laws the heavens rotate, the stars 
hold on their courses, the sun rules the day and the moon the 
night, and the whole world keeps the mighty constancy of 
things, so far as sensible matter permits, according to the order 
and recurrence of times— daily light alternates with darkness; 
monthly the moon waxes and wanes; yearly there is the suc- 
cession of spring, summer, autumn, winter; over longer periods 
there is the perfection of the course of the sun, and in their vast 
circles the stars return to the place of their rising. God, by whose 
laws, established for ever, the unstable movement of mutable 
things is not permitted to be disordered, but is ever reduced to 
apparent stability by the reins which hold in the revolving ages; 
by whose laws the soul’s will is free, and by unalterable neces- 
sity rewards are distributed to the good and punishments to the 
evil. God, from whom all good things flow down to us, and by 
whom all evil is warded off from us, above whom is nothing, 
outside of whom is nothing, without whom is nothing, under 
whom, in whom and with whom are all things; who hast made 
man in thine own image and similitude, which every one 
acknowledges who knows himself. Hear me, my God, my Lord, 
my King, my Father, my Cause, my Hope, my Riches, my 
Honour, my Home, my Fatherland, my Health, my Light, my 
Life. Flear me, hear me, in thine own way known to but few. 

5. Now thee only I love; thee only I follow; thee only I seek; 
thee only am I ready to serve. Because thou alone art justly 
Lord, I desire to be under thy jurisdiction. Command, I be- 
seech thee, as thou wilt, but heal and open my ears that I may 



• 26 


AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 


hear thy voice. Heal and open my eyes that I may see thy 
beckoning. Drive madness from me that I may recognize thee. 
Tell me whither I must go that I may behold thee; and I hope 
to do all that thou dost command. Receive, I pray, thy fugitive, 
most clement Father and Lord. Already I have been punished 
enough. Enough have I served thine enemies whom thou hast 
put under thy feet. Enough have I been the plaything of de- 
ceits. Receive me, thy servant, now fleeing from these things, as 
they formerly received me, a stranger, when I was fleeing from 
thee. I perceive I must return to thee. Let thy door be opened 
to me when I knock. Teach me how to come to thee. I have 
nothing else but the will to come. I know nothing save that 
transient dying things are to be spurned, certain and eternal 
things to be sought after. This only I know, O Father, but how 
to come to thee I know not. Tell me. Show me. Provide for my 
journey. If those who take refuge in thee find thee by faith, 
give me faith; if by virtue, give me virtue; if by knowledge, give 
knowledge. Increase in me faith, hope and charity, O thou 
admirable and unequalled Goodness. 

6. I come to thee, and how to come I ask thee again. For if 
thou dost leave a man he perishes. But thou dost not, for thou 
art the highest good which no man hath rightly sought and 
failed to find. Every man hath rightly sought to whom thou 
hast given the power to do so. Make me to seek thee, Father. 
Free me from error. As I seek thee, may nothing else substitute 
itself for thee. If I desire nothing else but thee, may I at last 
find thee, Father, I beseech thee. But if there be in me the 
desire for anything superfluous, do thou thyself cleanse me and 
make me fit to see thee. Concerning the health of this my mor- 
tal body, so long as it is of some use to me, or to those whom I 
love, I leave it to thee, most kind and wise Father, and I will 
pray for relief from the scourge wherewith thou dost now 
chasten me. 1 Only I beseech thy most excellent clemency to 
convert me wholly to thyself, to allow nothing to gainsay me as 
I draw near to thee and to bid me while I bear and wear this 
mortal body to be pure, generous, just and prudent, a perfect 
lover and receiver of thy Wisdom and worthy to dwell in thy 
most blessed kingdom. Amen. Amen. 

ii, 7. I have made my prayer to God. Reason . — What then 
do you wish to know? Augustine . — All that I have mentioned in 
my prayer. Reason . — Briefly summarize it. Augustine . — I desire 
to know God and the soul. R . — Nothing more? A . — Nothing 

1 A reference to his chest trouble. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 27 

whatever. /?.- — Begin your quest, then. But first explain what 
manner of demonstration of God would appear to you satis- 
fying. A . — I do not know what kind of demonstration would 
satisfy me, for I do not think I know anything as I desire to 
know God. R . — What, then, is your difficulty? Don’t you think 
you must first know what is a satisfying knowledge of God, 
beyond which you will make no further inquiry? A . — Certainly; 
but I do not see how it can be defined. Have I ever had know- 
ledge of anything comparable with God, so that I could say I 
want to know God as I know that? R . — If you do not yet know 
God how do you know that you know nothing similar to God? 
A . — If I knew anything similar to God I would doubtless love 
it. But I love nothing but God and the soul, and I know neither. 
R. — Don’t you love your friends? A . — -How could I not love 
them seeing I love the soul? R 0 — For the same reason do you 
love fleas and bugs? A . — I said I loved the soul, not animals. 1 
R . — Either your friends are not men or you do not love them. 
For man is an animal, and you said you did not love animals. 
A . — Indeed they are men and I love them, not because they 
are animals but because they are men, that is, they have 
rational souls which I love even in robbers. I can love reason in 
any man even while I justly hate the man who misuses what I 
love. I love my friends the more, the better they use their 
rational souls, or at all events the more they desire to use them 
well. 

iii, 8. R . — I agree. But if anyone promised to give you a 
knowledge of God like the knowledge you have of Alypius, 
would not you be grateful and say it was enough? A . — Indeed 
I should be grateful, but I should not say it was enough. 
R . — Pray why? A . — I do not know God as I know Alypius, but 
even Alypius I do not know sufficiently well. R . — Are you not 
shameless in wanting to know God better than you know Aly- 
pius? A . — That does not follow. In comparison with the 
heavenly bodies nothing is of less account than my dinner. I do 
not know what I shall have for dinner to-morrow, and yet I do 
know in what sign of the zodiac the moon will be. There is 
nothing shameless in that. R . — So a sufficient knowledge of 
God would resemble the knowledge you have of the course of 
the moon? A . — No; because the latter is sense-knowledge. I do 
not know whether God or some hidden natural cause may sud- 
denly alter the ordinance and course of the moon. Were that 
to happen all that I had assumed would be false. R . — You 

i Anima (soul) is also the life principle of animate beings (animals). 



28 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


believe that might happen? A . — No, I don’t. But my question is 
not about what I believe but about what I know. Possibly we 
may be rightly said to believe everything we know, but not to 
know what we only believe. R. — In this matter, then, you re- 
ject entirely the testimony of the senses. A . — Entirely. R . — Well 
now, take your friend Alypius, whom you have just said you do 
not know sufficiently. Do you wish to know him by sense-know- 
ledge or by intellectual knowledge? A . — What I know of him 
by sense-knowledge — if it can be called knowledge — is insig- 
nificant and yet sufficient so far as it goes. But I desire to reach 
by intellect a knowledge of that part of him, namely, his mind, 
where he is truly my friend. R . — Can he be known otherwise? 
A . — By no means. R . — Do you dare to say that your most 
familiar friend is unknown to you? A. — There is no daring 
about it. I think that law of friendship is most just which lays 
down that a man shall love his friend as himself, neither less nor 
more. So, seeing that I do not know myself, how can I be re- 
proached for saying that I do not know him, especially since, 
I dare say, he does not profess to know himself either. R. — If 
the knowledge you seek is of the kind which is attained by the 
intellect alone, you had no right, when I said it was shameless 
of you to seek to know God while professing ignorance of Aly- 
pius, to offer the analogy of your dinner and the moon, for these 
things, as you say, belong to the world of the senses, iv, 9. But 
no matter. Answer me this: If the statements of Plato and 
Plotinus concerning God are true, would you be satisfied to 
know God as they knew him? A. — Even if their statements are 
true, it does not necessarily follow that they knew him. Many 
speak at great length of things they do not know, just as I said 
I desire to know all the things I mentioned in my prayer. I 
could not desire to know what I already knew. How then was I 
able to speak of these things? I spoke not that which I under- 
stood with my mind, but that which I have gathered from many 
quarters and committed to memory and in which I have put such 
faith as I was able. To know is quite another matter. R . — Tell 
me this. You know what a line is in geometry. A. — Yes, that I 
clearly know. R. — In saying so you are not afraid of the 
Academics. A. — Not at all. They wanted to avoid philo- 
sophical error. I am no philosopher, so I am not afraid to 
profess knowledge of the things I know. But if I reach Wisdom 
as I desire I shall do as she directs. R . — Quite right. But to 
return to my question. You know what a line is. Do you also 
know the round object which is called a sphere? A. — I do. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 29 

R . — Every point on the circumference is equidistant from the 
centre. A. — Exactly. R. — Have you gained this knowledge by 
the senses or by the intellect? A. — In this matter I have found 
the senses to be like a ship. They brought me to my destination, 
but when I dismissed them and began to think about these 
things in my mind I was still as one on the high seas and my 
footsteps long faltered. It seems to me one might more readily 
sail on dry land than learn geometry by the senses, and yet they 
seem to be of some use to beginners. R . — You do not doubt, 
then, that whatever you have learned of these things is to be 
called knowledge? A. — The Stoics would not permit me, for 
they attribute knowledge to none but the Sage. I do not deny 
that I have such perception of these matters as they concede 
even to fools. But I have no fear of the Stoics. Certainly I have 
knowledge of those things about which you asked me. Go on and 
let me see the purpose of your questioning. R. — There is no 
need for haste. We are at leisure. Just be careful to make no 
rash concessions. I am trying to give you confidence in matters 
in which you need fear no fall, and, as if that were a small 
business, you bid me hasten on. A— May God do as you say. 
Ask as you see fit, and rebuke me more severely if I become 
impatient again. 

io. R. — It is manifest to you, then, that a line cannot by any 
possibility be divided lengthwise? A. — It is. R. — But across? 
^4. — —It is infinitely divisible. R. — Similarly it is clear that a 
sphere cannot have more than one point from which circles 
may be drawn. A. — Quite so. R. — Are lines and spheres the 
same or do they differ? A. — Obviously they differ very much. 
R . — If they differ very much, as you say, and yet you know both 
of them equally, the knowledge remains the same even if its 
objects differ. A . — No one denied that. /?. — Oh yes, you did a 
moment ago. When I asked what kind of knowledge of God 
would satisfy you, you replied that you could not explain it 
because you had grasped nothing as you desired to know God, 
that you knew nothing comparable to God. Now does the line 
resemble the sphere? A. — Who would say such a thing? R . — My 
question was not what you know but how you know. Have you 
any knowledge that resembles knowledge of God? Your know- 
ledge of the line and the sphere is the same knowledge though 
its objects differ. Tell me, would you be satisfied to know God 
as you know the mathematical sphere, that is, to have no more 
doubt in the one case than in the other? 

v, 1 1. A. — You press me hard and almost convince me, but I 



30 AUGUSTINE.* EARLIER WRITINGS 

dare not say that I wish to know God as I know these things. 
Not only the things but the knowledge, too, seem to me to be 
different. First, because the line and the sphere do not differ so 
much that knowledge of them cannot be contained within the 
framework of one science. Now no geometer ever professed to 
teach about God. Secondly, if knowledge of God were the same 
as knowledge of mathematical figures, I would rejoice as much 
in the knowledge of them as I expect to rejoice when I come to 
know God. But in comparison with the latter I despise the 
former so much that it sometimes seems to me that all these 
things would perish from my mind if I should come to know 
him and to see him in the manner in which he can be seen. 
Even now compared to love of him these things hardly enter 
my mind. R . — Granted that you would rejoice more in the 
knowledge of God than in the knowledge of these things, the 
difference would be due to the objects known not to the know- 
ing. No doubt looking at a serene sky gives you much greater 
pleasure than looking at the earth, yet the seeing would be the 
same. If you were asked whether you were as certain of your 
seeing the earth as of your seeing the sky, I believe you would 
have to reply — unless your eyes were at fault — that you were 
just as certain, even though you had greater pleasure in the 
beauty and lustre of the heaven. A . — I confess your similitude 
affects me, and I am induced to assent up to a point. As the 
sky is superior to the earth in its peculiar beauty, so is the 
intelligible beauty of God superior to the certain truths of 
mathematics. 

vi, 12. R . — You do well to be so affected. For Reason who 
speaks with you promises to let you see God with your mind as 
the sun is seen with the eye. The mind has, as it were, eyes of its 
own, analogous to the soul’s senses. The certain truths of the 
sciences are analogous to the objects which the sun’s rays make 
visible, such as the earth and earthly things. And it is God him- 
self who illumines all. I, Reason, am in minds as the power of 
looking is in the eyes. Having eyes is not the same thing as 
looking, and looking is not the same as seeing. The soul there- 
fore needs three things: eyes which it can use aright, looking 
and seeing. The eye of the mind is healthy when it is pure from 
every taint of the body, that is, when it is remote and purged 
from desire of mortal things. And this, faith alone can give in 
the first place. It is impossible to show God to a mind vitiated 
and sick. Only the healthy mind can see him. But if the mind 
does not believe that only thus will it attain vision, it will not 



THE SOLILOQUIES 31 

seek healing. Even if it believes that this is true, and that only 
so will it attain the vision, but at the same time despairs of 
healing;, will it not abandon the quest and refuse to obey the 
precepts of the physician? A . — Most assuredly, especially be- 
cause its disease must have sharp remedies. R . — So to faith 
must be added hope. A . — That I believe. R . — Suppose it be- 
lieves all this is true and hopes that healing is possible, but does 
not love and desire the promised light, and thinks it must mean- 
time be content with its darkness which through habit has 
become pleasant, will it not, no less, spurn the physician? A.— 
Perfectly true. R . — Therefore a third thing is necessary, love. 
A . — There is nothing more necessary. R . — Without these three 
no soul is healed so that it may see, that is, know God. 

13* When its eyes are healed, what next? ^4. — —It must look. 
R . — Yes. Reason is the power of the soul to look, but it does not 
follow that every one who looks, sees. Right and perfect looking 
which leads to vision is called virtue. For virtue is right and 
perfect reason. But even looking cannot turn eyes already 
healed to the light unless these three things are present: faith 
that believes that the object to which our looking ought to be 
directed can, when seen, make us blessed; hope which is 
assured that vision will follow right looking; love which longs 
to see and to enjoy. Then looking is followed by the vision of 
God, its true end in the sense that there is nothing more to look 
for. This truly is perfect virtue, reason achieving its end, which 
is the happy life. This vision is knowledge compounded of the 
knower and that which is known; just as vision in the ordinary 
sense is compounded of the sense of sight and the sensible ob- 
ject, of which if either is lacking there is no seeing. 

vii, 14. Now let us see whether these three things are still 
necessary when the soul has attained the vision, that is the 
knowledge, of God. Why should faith be necessary when vision 
is already attained? And hope, too, when that which was hoped 
for is grasped? From love alone nothing can be taken away, but 
rather much must be added. For when the soul sees that unique 
and true Beauty it will love it more. Unless it fix its eye upon it 
with strong love and never leave off' looking towards it, it will 
not be able to abide in that most blessed vision. But while the 
soul inhabits t his mortal body, even if it fully sees, that is, knows, 
God, the bodily senses perform their proper functions. They 
may not have power to lead astray, but at least they can make 
things difficult. Faith may be called that which resists the senses 
and believes that the world of the mind is better. Again, in this 



32 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

life, though the soul may be blessed by the knowledge of God, 
nevertheless it has to bear many bodily troubles. It must hope 
that all these disadvantages will cease after death. In this life 
hope never departs from the soul. But when after this life the soul 
gives itself wholly to God, love remains to hold it fast. Faith 
cannot be said to be, where truth is assailed by no falsehood. 
Nothing is left to hope for when everything is securely pos- 
sessed. There are three stages in the soul’s progress: healing, 
looking, seeing. Likewise there are three virtues: faith, hope, 
love. For healing and looking, faith and hope are always neces- 
sary. For seeing, all three are necessary in this life, but in the 
life to come love only. 

viii, 15. Now listen while I teach you something concerning 
God from the analogy of sensible things, so far as the present 
time demands. God, of course, belongs to the realm of intel- 
ligible things, and so do these mathematical symbols, though 
there is a great difference. Similarly the earth and light are 
visible, but the earth cannot be seen unless it is illumined. Any- 
one who knows the mathematical symbols admits that they are 
true without the shadow of a doubt. But he must also believe 
that they cannot be known unless they are illumined by some- 
thing else corresponding to the sun. About this corporeal sun 
notice three things. It exists. It shines. It illumines. So in know- 
ing the hidden God you must observe three things. He exists. 
He is known. He causes other things to be known. I am ventur- 
ing to teach you how to know God and yourself. But how will 
you take what I say? as probable or as true? A . — As probable 
assuredly, but I must confess I am aroused to a greater hope. 
I know that what you have said about the line and the sphere 
is true, but I would not dare to say of any of your other state- 
ments that I know it. R . — That is not surprising, for nothing 
has been expounded hitherto which demands comprehension. 

ix, 16. But now let us get on without delay, and let us begin 
with the first question of all, whether we are healed and sound. 
A . — That we shall discover by investigating your inward state 
or mine. Do you ask and I shall give my opinions in reply. 
R . — Is there anything you love besides knowledge of yourself 
and of God? A . — I could, of course, reply that in my present 
mood there is nothing that I love more, but it would be safer to 
say that I do not know. My experience has been that often, when 
I supposed that nothing could move me, something has come 
into my mind which has affected me more than I imagined. It 
may not have completely drawn me away from my thoughts, 



THE SOLILOQUIES 33 

but in fact it has interrupted them more than I supposed. It 
would seem that I can be affected by three things chiefly, fear 
of losing my friends, fear of pain and fear of death. R . — So you 
love your health, your own life in the body, and to be sur- 
rounded by your friends. Otherwise you would not dread the 
loss of these things. A. — I confess that is so. R . — So your mind 
is somewhat disturbed because all your friends are not here 
with you, and because your health is not very good. That is the 
point. A . — You are right. I cannot deny it. R . — If you were 
suddenly to become sound and well, and to see all your friends 
around you enjoying peace and cultured leisure, you would be 
transported with joy. A. — Yes, to some extent. And if it all 
happened suddenly, as you put it, how could I contain myself? 
How could I be expected to dissimulate transports of joy. 
R . — So up till now you are agitated by the well-known diseases 
and perturbations of the mind. What impudence for such eyes 
to wish to see the sun of the intellectual realm! A. — You have 
jumped to conclusions as if I did not feel that I had made any 
moral progress, that some temptations had lost their power and 
that some resistance had been offered. Ask about this. 

x, 17. R. — Don’t you see that corporeal eyes even when 
sound are often smitten by the light of the sun and have to be 
averted and find refuge in darkness? Why then do you speak of 
progress, and not only of what you wish to see? Nevertheless let 
us discuss the progress we think we have made. Do you desire 
riches? A. — No, not for a long time. I am now in my thirty- 
third year. Nearly fourteen years ago I ceased to desire riches, 
and, if perchance they came my way, I cared for no more than 
a necessary livelihood, enough to support a life of culture. One 
book of Cicero’s easily and completely persuaded me that 
riches were not to be sought and that, if they were acquired, 
they were to be used wisely and cautiously. R. — What about 
honours? A. — I confess that only recendy, in these last few days, 
I have ceased to desire them. R. — What about marriage? Would 
you not like to have a wife who was beautiful, chaste, obedient, 
educated or at least whom you could easily teach, bringing 
enough dowry, though you despise wealth, at least to keep her 
from being a burden on your leisure, especially if you are pretty 
certain that she will not cause you any trouble? A. — Paint her 
virtues as you will, and heap up good qualities, nevertheless I have 
decided that there is nothing I must more carefully avoid than 
the marriage-bed. I find there is nothing which more certainly 
casts a man’s mind out of its citadel than female blandishments 

A.E.W. — 3 



34 Augustine: earlier writings 

and bodily contacts which are essential to marriage. So if it is 
part of the duty of the Sage (which I have not yet learned) 
to have children, anyone who has intercourse with a woman 
for this purpose only seems to me worthy of admiration rather 
than of imitation. The danger of attempting it is greater than 
the happiness of achieving it. Accordingly in the interests of 
righteousness and the liberty of my soul I have made it my 
rule not to desire or seek or marry a wife. R . — I am not now 
asking about your resolutions, but whether you are still strug- 
gling with lust or have already overcome it. The question has 
to do with the soundness of your spiritual eyes. A . — I am com- 
pletely free from desires of this kind, and I recall them with 
horror and disdain. What more need I say? This virtue in- 
creases in me day by day. The more my hope increases of be- 
holding that spiritual Beauty for which I long so eagerly, the 
more does all my love and pleasure turn to it. R . — What about 
the pleasures of the table? How much thought do you give to 
them? A . — Foods which I have determined not to touch attract 
me not at all, but I confess that those which I have not banned 
do indeed delight me when they are available. But I can see 
them removed, even when I have tasted them, without any 
emotion. When they are not to hand no longing for them in- 
sinuates itself to disturb my thoughts. Do not trouble to ask me 
any more about food or drink or baths or any other bodily 
pleasure. I desire only so much of them as contributes to my 
health. 

xi, 1 8. R .- — You have made good progress. But the vices 
which remain still greatly hinder you from seeing the light. I 
am attempting an argument that can apparently prove either 
that nothing remains for us to conquer, or that we have made 
no progress at all and that the corruption of our vices, which we 
thought to have removed, is still with us. Suppose you were 
persuaded that you could not live in the pursuit of wisdom with 
your numerous friends unless you had an ample private fortune 
to supply your needs, would you not desire and choose riches? 
A . — I might. R . — Suppose it appeared that you would persuade 
many to seek wisdom if your authority were increased by having 
honours showered upon you, and that your friends could not 
moderate their cupidities and turn wholly to seek God unless 
they themselves received honour and could do so only as a 
result of your having honour and dignity, would not honours 
be desirable, and the obtaining of them a pressing concern? 
A . — That is so. R . — I do not want to introduce marriage into 



THE SOLILOQUIES 35 

this argument for possibly it is not so relevant. But suppose 
your wife had an ample income which could support all whom 
you wished to live with you in leisure, and that she were willing. 
Suppose she belonged to a noble and influential family so that 
through her you could easily obtain the honours you admitted 
might be necessary. I wonder whether you would consider 
yourself in duty bound to contemn all this. A . — When would I 
venture to hope so? 

19. R . — You say that as if I were asking about your hopes. I 
am not asking about what gives no pleasure simply because it 
is beyond your reach, but about what gives pleasure when 
offered to you. A spent pestilence is a very different thing from 
one that is merely quiescent. The dictum of certain learned men 
is in point here. “All fools are mad just as dung stinks — you 
don’t smell it all the time but only when you move it.” There is 
a vast difference between smothering cupidity with despair, and 
driving it out of a sound mind. A . — Although I cannot answer 
you, you will never persuade me in my present state of mind to 
believe that I have made no progress. R— I suppose the reason 
is that you think that, while you might conceivably desire these 
things, it would not be on their own account they were to be 
sought but on account of something else. A . — That is what I 
wanted to say. When I desired riches I desired them that I 
might be a rich man; and when I wanted honours, desire for 
which I have but recently overcome as I said, it was because I 
was delighted with their lustre. I never expected anything from 
marriage but to obtain pleasure respectably. In those days I 
quite simply wanted those things. Now I utterly spurn them. 
But if there is no other way of obtaining what I now desire, I 
would not seek them as things to be enjoyed. I would undergo 
them as things I must endure. R . — Quite right. I agree that 
cupidity is not the right name for desire for something that is 
wanted on account of something else. 

xii, 20. But why, I ask, do you wish your friends to live and 
to live with you? A . — That with one mind we may together seek 
knowledge of our souls and God. For in this way, if one makes a 
discovery he can without trouble bring the others to see it. 
R . — But if they are unwilling to inquire? A .— I shall persuade 
them to be willing. R . — But if you cannot persuade them, be- 
cause they think they have discovered the truth already, or that 
it cannot be discovered, or are hindered by other cares and 
longings? A . — We shall do the best we can. R . — But if their 
presence hinders you from inquiry, will you not wish and strive 



36 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

if their attitude cannot be changed, not to have them with you? 
A. — I confess that is so. R, — Then you desire their life and pre- 
sence not for its own sake but in order to find out wisdom. 
A. — I agree at once. R . — If your own life was a hindrance to the 
obtaining of wisdom, would you want it to continue? A. — No; 
I should flee from it. R. — If you learned that you could reach 
wisdom equally by continuing in the body or by leaving it, 
would you greatly care whether you enjoyed what you love in 
this life or in another? A. — If I knew that I should encounter 
nothing that would drive me back from the point to which I 
have already progressed I should not care. R . — Your reason, 
then, for fearing death now is lest you be involved in some evil 
which would rob you of the knowledge of God. A . — Not only 
lest I should be robbed of such understanding as I have reached, 
but also lest, retaining what I myself possess, I should be pre- 
cluded from the society of those whom I eagerly desire to share 
it. R. — So you do not wish for continued life on its own account 
but on account of wisdom? A. — That is so. 

21. R. — There remains only bodily pain to distract you. 
A. — Even that I do not greatly fear except that it hinders my 
meditations. When, recently, I was tortured with a sharp tooth- 
ache, I could only meditate upon things I had already learned 
and was completely prevented from learning anything new, 
which demands undivided attention. Still, I thought if the truth 
were to shine into my mind, either I should not feel the pain, or 
at least I could bear it. And yet, although I have never suffered 
anything worse, I reflected how much more grievous pains might 
come, and I am compelled to agree with Cornelius Celsus 1 
who says that the supreme good is wisdom and the supreme 
evil is bodily pain. The reason he gives I think not absurd. For, 
he says, seeing we are composed of two parts, soul and body, 
of which the soul is the better and the body the inferior, the 
supreme good will be the best that can happen to the superior 
part, and the supreme evil the worst that can happen to the 
inferior part. Wisdom is the best the soul can have, and pain 
the worst thing the body can suffer. So I think we may rightly 
conclude that to be wise is man’s supreme good and to suffer 
pain his supreme evil. R. — We shall consider that later. Perhaps 
Wisdom herself, towards which we struggle, will persuade us 
otherwise. But if she shows that it is true we shall hold this 
opinion about the supreme good and the supreme evil without 
any hesitation. 

1 A famous Roman physician, flor. a.d. 50. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 37 

xiii, 22. But now what kind of man are you to be Wisdom’s 
lover, desirous of seeing and embracing her, as it were, without 
any covering garment but yet most chastely. That privilege she 
allows only to a very few chosen lovers. If you burned with love 
for some beautiful woman, she would not rightly give herself to 
you if she found you loved anything else besides. So that most 
chaste beauty, Wisdom, will not show herself to you unless you 
burn for her alone. A . — Why am I, then, kept in unhappy sus- 
pense and miserably tortured by being put off? Surely I have 
shown already that I love nothing else, at any rate if that is not 
really loved which is not loved for its own sake. Wisdom alone I 
love for her own sake. All else — life, leisure, friends — I wish to 
have or fear to lose solely on her account. What bounds can be 
set to love of so great a beauty, in which not only do I not envy 
others but also wish to have as many as possible along with me 
seeking her, panting after her, holding and enjoying her, in the 
belief that they will be my friends all the more because love for 
her is shared by us in common. 

23. JR . — Such should the lovers of Wisdom be. Such she 
seeks, with whom intercourse is truly chaste and without defile- 
ment. Not by one way is she approached. 1 Each man according 
to his soundness and firmness takes hold of that unique and 
truest Good. There is a certain ineffable and incomprehensible 
light of minds. Ordinary light may teach us what is its power 
and quality. Some eyes are so strong and vigorous that as soon 
as they are opened they can look at the sun without any hesita- 
tion. For them the light is in a sense their soundness. They need 
no teacher but only perhaps some admonition. It is sufficient 
for them to believe, to hope, to love. Others are smitten by the 
very brightness that they longed to behold, and are often glad 
to return without seeing it to their darkness. To such, though 
they may rightly be called sound, it is dangerous to show what 
they have not yet the power to see. They must first be exercised 
and their love deferred and nourished to their advantage. First, 
they must be shown things which do not shine by any light of 
their own but are rendered visible by light, such as a garment, 
a wall or the like. Next, they must be shown things which, 
though having no lustre of their own, shine more brightly in the 
light but not so as to hurt the eyes, such as gold, silver and the 
like. Then they must be made carefully to look at ordinary fire, 

1 Cf. Retract. I. iv. 3. “This does not sound right, as if there were another 
way besides Christ, who said: I am the Way. I ought to have avoided this 
offence to religious ears.” 



38 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

then at the stars, the moon, the dawn and the gradually 
brightening sky. So more or less speedily, following the whole 
course or omitting some steps in it according to his ability, a 
man will grow accustomed to light and will be able to look at 
the sun without hesitation and with great pleasure. This is what 
the best teachers do with students of wisdom who do not yet 
have sharp vision. To provide an approach to it in some kind 
of order is the function of good training. To reach it without 
order demands incredible good fortune. But we have written 
enough for to-day. We must be careful for your health. 

xiv, 24. [One day later the conversation was resumed.] 
A . — Prescribe for me the order you mentioned. Lead me 
whither you wish, how you wish, by what methods you wish. 
Lay commands upon me as severe and arduous as you like so 
long as to obey them is within my power, and I gain assurance 
of reaching my desired goal. R . — \There is only one prescription 
I can give you. I know no other. You must entirely flee from 
things of sense. So long as we bear this body we must beware 
lest our wings are hindered by their birdlime. We need sound 
and perfect wings if we are to fly from this darkness to yonder 
light, which does not deign to manifest itself to men shut up in 
a cave unless they can escape, leaving sensible things broken 
and dissolved. When you achieve the condition of finding no 
delight at all in earthly things, in that moment, believe me, at 
that point of time, you will see what you desire. A . — When, 
pray, will that be? I do not think I can ever reach complete 
contempt for earthly things unless I see something compared 
with which they become sordid. 

25. R . — In the same way, the bodily eye might say: I shall 
not love darkness when I can look on the sun. There seems to 
be a kind of orderliness in that, though in fact there is none. 
The eye loves darkness because it is not strong, and unless it be 
strong it cannot see the sun. So the mind is often deceived, 
thinks itself sound and gives itself airs. Because it cannot yet see, 
it complains as if it had the right to do so. But the supreme 
beauty knows when to show itself. It performs the function of 
the physician, and knows who are whole better than those who 
are being healed. When we have emerged a little from darkness 
we think we see, but cannot imagine or perceive how deeply we 
had been sunk or how far we have progressed. Comparing our 
condition with graver forms of disease we believe we are healed. 
Do you remember how, yesterday, in complete assurance, we 
declared that we were free from disease, that we loved nothing 



THE SOLILOQUIES 39 

but Wisdom; all else we sought and desired only for the sake of 
Wisdom? How sordid, how base, how execrable, how horrible 
the embrace of a woman seemed to you when we were discus- 
sing the desire for marriage! But as you lay awake last night and 
the same question arose, you found it was very different with 
you than you had supposed. Imagined fondlings and bitter 
sweetness tickled your fancy, much less than formerly, of course, 
but far more than you had supposed. In that way the mysterious 
physician was teaching you two things; how you can evade his 
care, and what remains to be cured. 

26. A . — Oh, be silent, be silent I beseech you! Why do you 
torture me? Why do you cut so deep? I am not too hardened for 
weeping. Now I promise nothing, I presume nothing. Do not 
ask me about these things. You say that he whom I burn to see 
knows when I am healed. Let him do what he pleases. Let him 
show himself when he pleases. I commit myself wholly to his 
care and clemency. Once for all I have accepted the belief 
that he will not cease to aid those who have set their affections 
on him. I shall never again say anything about my healing 
until I see spiritual beauty. R . — Do as you say, but restrain 
your tears and brace your mind. You have wept much, and 
that is not good for your chest-trouble. A . — You wish me to set 
a limit to my tears though I see no limit to my misery. You bid 
me consider my bodily health when I am myself consumed with 
wasting. But I pray you, if you do anything for me, try to lead 
me by some short-cut to a place near to that light where, if I 
have made any progress, I may be able to bear it, so that I may 
be reluctant to go back to the darkness which I have left — if 
indeed I may be said to have left it — and which soothes my 
blindness. 

xv, 27. JR .— Let us conclude, if you please, this first Book, 
so that in a second Book we may start on a suitable path if we 
can find one; for we must give you in your frame of mind some 
moderate exercise. A . — I shall not allow this Book to be con- 
cluded unless you give me a glimpse of what I am seeking, if it 
be only of something near the light. R . — I see the physician is 
treating you in his accustomed way. Some brightness touches 
me and invites me along a way in which I may lead you. So 
listen carefully. A . — ‘Lead on and take me where you wish. 
R .— You say you want to know the soul and God? A .— That is 
my whole enterprise. R . — Nothing more? A . — Nothing what- 
ever. R. — Well. You want to know Truth. A . — As if I could 
know anything without that. R.— Therefore, that must be first 



40 AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 

known by which other things are known. A. — I agree. R . — First 
let us ask this question. There are two words, Veritas and Verum . 
Do you think they signify two things, or only one? A . — Two 
things, evidently. For just as castitas is one thing and castum 
another, and so with many other similar pairs of words, so, I 
believe, Truth is one thing and that which is said to be true is 
another. R . — Which of the two do you think is more excellent? 
A . — Truth, I think. What is chaste is a particular instance of 
Chastity. Similarly, what is true is a particular instance of 
Truth. 

28. R . — When a chaste person dies, Chastity has not died 
too? A . — By no means. R . — Therefore, when something that is 
true perishes, Truth does not perish. A . — I do not see how any- 
thing that is true can perish. R. — I am surprised at that. Don’t 
you see thousands of things perishing before our eyes? Can you 
imagine that this tree is a tree but is not true, or that it cannot 
perish? Though you do not trust the senses and can reply that 
you do not know whether it is a tree, at least you will not deny, 
I suppose, that it is truly a tree if it is a tree. For that is a judg- 
ment not of the senses but of the intelligence. If it is a false tree 
it is not a tree. But if it is a tree it is true, necessarily. A . — I 
admit that. R . — Don’t you admit also that a tree belongs to 
the class of things that are born and die? A . — I cannot deny it. 
R . — The conclusion, then, is that something that is true 
perishes. A . — I do not contradict. R. — You see, then, that when 
true things perish Truth does not perish, just as Chastity does 
not die when a chaste person dies. A . — Now I agree and 
expectantly await the development of your argument. R . — 
Well. Listen. A . — I am all agog. 

29. R. — Do you think the statement is true: whatever is must 
be somewhere. A . — Of that I am as sure as of anything. R . — 
Truth exists. A. — I agree. R . — Then we must ask where it 
exists. For it cannot be in space unless you think that something 
which is not a material body can be in space, or that Truth 
itself is a corporeal thing. A . — I hold neither of these views. 
R . — Where, then, can it exist? For if we admit it exists, it must 
exist somewhere. A . — If I knew where it exists I should prob- 
ably have no further questions to ask. R . — At least you can 
know where it does not exist. A. — If you tell me I might. 
R . — Certainly it does not exist in mortal things. Whatever is, 
cannot be permanent if that in which it exists is not permanent. 
A moment ago we agreed that Truth remains even when true 
things perish. Truth, therefore, does not exist in mortal things. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 41 

But it must exist somewhere. There are, therefore, immortal 
things. But nothing is true in which Truth does not exist. 
Therefore, only immortal things are true. A false tree is no 
tree; a false log is no log; false silver is not silver; universally 
what is false is not. All that is not true is false. Therefore nothing 
which is not immortal can be said truly to be. Consider dili- 
gently in your own mind this little piece of reasoning and see 
whether there is any mistake in it. If it holds we have nearly 
finished our job. This will perhaps become more apparent in 
the next Book. 

30. A. — I am most grateful, and I shall diligently and carefully 
ponder these things with you in the silence of my own heart, if 
no darkness come upon me to charm me, as I greatly fear it 
may. R. — Believe steadfastly in God, and commit yourself 
wholly to him as far as you are able. Do not seek to be your own 
and under your own jurisdiction, but profess yourself the servant 
of the most clement Lord whom it is most advantageous to 
serve. He will not cease to lift you up to himself, and will per- 
mit nothing to* happen to you that will not profit you, even 
when you know it not. A. — I understand. I believe. And to the 
limit of my power I shall obey. I earnestly ask him to increase 
my power. Do you want anything more of me? R. — Enough for 
the present. When you have seen him you will do what he 
prescribes. 

Book II 

i, 1. Augustine. — We have sufficiently rested from our labours. 
Love is impatient, and there is no limit to tears until love is given 
what it loves. Let us then begin the second Book. Reason . — Let 
us begin. A— Let us believe in God. R. — Surely, if 'we can. 
A. — God gives us power. R. — Pray, then, as briefly and as per- 
fectly as you can. A. — O God, who art ever the same, let me 
know myself and thee. That is my prayer. R. — You who wish 
to know yourself, do you know that you exist? A. — I do. R . — 
How do you know. A. — That I do not know. R. — Do you per- 
ceive yourself to be simple or compounded? A.— I do not know. 
R . — You know that you have motion? A. — No, I don’t. R. — You 
know that you think? A. — I do. R. — Then it is true that you 
think. A . — It is true. R. — Do you know that you are immortal? 
A. — No. R. — Of all those things which you say you do not know, 
which would you prefer to know? A. — Whether I am immortal. 
R. — -So you love to live? A. — I admit I do. R.— Will it satisfy you 
to learn that you are immortal? A . — It will be a great matter but 



42 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

not sufficient. R . — Though it be not sufficient, how much will 
you rejoice in that knowledge? A. — A great deal. R. — You will 
not weep any more? A . — No. R. — But if you discover that even 
immortal life will not enable you to know more than you already 
know, will you refrain from tears? A . — I shall weep as if that 
were no life at all. R. — So you love life not for the sake of living 
but for the sake of knowing. A . — I accept that conclusion. 
R . — But if knowledge itself made you unhappy? A . — I cannot 
believe that possible. But if it is so, no man can be happy? My 
unhappiness has no other source than my ignorance. If know- 
ledge makes a man unhappy, then misery is eternal. R. — 
Now I see all that you desire. Since you believe that know- 
ledge makes no one unhappy, it follows that probably intel- 
ligence makes a man happy. No one is happy unless he has life, 
and no one lives who does not exist. You want to be, to live and 
to know, but to be in order to live and to live in order to know. 
You know that you exist and live and have intelligence; but you 
wish to know whether you will always have being, life and 
intelligence, or none of them; whether some of them will endure 
eternally while others perish; or, if all remain, whether they 
will be diminished or increased. A . — That is so. R. — If we prove 
that we shall live eternally, it will follow that we shall exist 
eternally. A . — It will. R. — There will remain only the question 
of our knowing eternally. 

ii, 2. A. — The order is clear and short. R . — Listen and 
answer my questions cautiously and firmly. A . — I am your man. 
R . — If the world is to endure for ever, it is true to say the world 
will endure for ever. A. — None can doubt it. R. — If it will not 
endure, it is similarly true that it will not endure. A . — I agree. 
R . — If it has perished (assuming it is to perish), it will' then be 
true to say that the world has perished. For so long as that is not 
true the world has not perished. The statement “the world has 
perished 55 contradicts the statement “it is not true that the 
world has perished. 55 A . — This too I accept. R . — Well, now. 
Do you think anything can be true if Truth ceases to exist? 
A . — By no means. R . — Therefore Truth will exist even if the 
world perishes. A. — I cannot deny it. R. — If Truth itself per- 
ishes, it will be true that Truth has perished? A . — Who denies 
it? R. — But nothing can be true if there is no Truth. A . — I have 
admitted that a moment ago. R . — Truth, therefore, can never 
perish. A . — Go on as you have begun, for nothing is more true 
than that conclusion. 

iii, 3. R. — I should like you to tell me whether you think the 



THE SOLILOQUIES 43 

senses belong to the soul or to the body. A .— To the soul, I 
think. R . — And intelligence belongs to the soul? A. — Certainly. 
R. — To the soul alone, or to anything else? A . — I see nothing 
besides the soul, except God, where intelligence may be sup- 
posed to reside. R. — -Now let us look into that. If anyone said 
to you that that object is not a wall but a tree, what would you 
think? A . — Either that his sight or mine was at fault, or that 
“tree” was his word for “wall.” i?.— Suppose to him there 
appeared to be a tree and to you a wall. Could not both be 
true? A . — By no means, for one and the same thing cannot be 
both a tree and a wall. If each of us sees differently, one or other 
of us must have a false image. R. — If there was neither a tree 
nor a wall both of you would be wrong. A. — That is possible. 
R. — That possibility you neglected just now. A. — I confess I 
did. R . — If you recognize that a thing appears to you other than 
it is, are you deceived? A.— No. R. — It is possible, then, for an 
appearance to be false while he to whom it appears is not de- 
ceived. T. — It is possible, R.~ We must confess, therefore, that a 
man is deceived not when he sees falsely but when he assents to 
what is false. A. — Clearly we must. R . — How would you define 
falsehood? A. — That is false which is other than it seems. R. — If, 
then, there is no one to be taken in, there is no falsehood. A. — It 
follows. R . — There is, then, no falsity in things but only in our 
senses. But no one is deceived who does not assent to what is 
false. Our conclusion is that we must make a distinction be- 
tween ourselves and our senses, if indeed our senses may be 
deceived while we can be free from deception. A. — I have 
nothing to urge to the contrary. R . — But if your soul is deceived 
you will not venture to deny that you are false? A. — How could 
I? R . — But there are no senses without a soul, and no falsity 
without senses. Hence either the soul works alone or co-operates 
with falsity. A. — The argument compels assent. 

4. R . — Now tell me whether you think there can ever be a time 
when falsity is no more? A . — How could I think so, when there 
is such difficulty in finding the truth. It would be more absurd 
to say that falsity can cease to be than that truth should cease. 
R.—Do you think that a man who does not live can use the 
senses? A .- — It cannot be. i?.— Then it is proved that the soul is 
immortal. A.-- -You make my heart glad too quickly. Step by 
step, I beseech you! R . — And yet if the argument has been cor- 
rect I see no reason to doubt the conclusion. A. — You go too 
quickly, I say. I should be more readily induced to judge that 
I have been rash in my admissions than to be sure of the 



44 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

immortality of the soul. Elucidate your conclusion and show me 
how it has been reached. R . — You said that falsity cannot be 
without the senses, and that it cannot cease to be. Therefore the 
senses are eternal. But there are no senses without a soul. Hence 
the soul is eternal. Moreover there are no senses without life. 
Therefore the soul lives eternally. 

iv, 5. A . — A blunt weapon! You could as soon conclude that 
man is immortal if I agreed that the world could not exist with- 
out man, and that the world is eternal. R . — You are very watch- 
ful. Yet it is no small result to have ascertained that the world 
cannot be without the soul, if we cannot admit the possibility 
of there being no falsity in the world. A . — That follows, I 
agree. But I think we must consider more fully whether some of 
our earlier admissions are not shaky. I see that a considerable 
step has been taken towards proving the immortality of the 
soul. R . — Are you satisfied that you have conceded nothing 
rashly? A. — Yes. I see no reason to accuse myself of rashness. 
R . — Then it is proved that the world cannot exist without the 
living soul. A . — That may mean only that when some die others 
are born. R . — If falsity is banished from the universe, that 
means that all things become true. A . — I see it follows. R. — Tell 
me how you think that wall is a true wall. A . — Because I am not 
mistaken when I look at it. R . — Because it is what it seems. 
A. — For that reason too. R . — If a thing is false because it seems 
different from what it is, and true because it is what it seems, 
take away the percipient and it is neither true nor false. But if 
there is no falsity in the universe, all things are true. And noth- 
ing can be perceived except by a living soul. The soul is there- 
fore eternal, whether falsity can be abolished or not. A. — I see 
that our conclusion was pretty strong, and we have not moved 
forward by this additional argument. Nevertheless, my chief 
difficulty remains. Souls are born and die, and the fact that 
there are always souls in the world is due not to their immor- 
tality but to their succession. 

6 . R . — Do you think that any corporeal things, i.e., objects 
of the senses, can be comprehended by the intellect? A . — I do 
not. R. — Do you think God uses senses to know things? A . — I do 
not venture to make any rash assertion in such a matter, but, 
so far as I may guess, God does not make use of senses. R . — We 
draw the conclusion, therefore, that the soul alone has senses. 
A. — Provisionally, that is probable. R . — Well, now. You agree 
that if that wall is not a true wall it is not a wall? A. — That is 
quite simple. R . — Nor is anything a corporeal object unless it is 



THE SOLILOQUIES 45 

truly such? A . — Equally simple. R.— Now, if nothing is true 
unless it is what it seems; and no bodily object can be seen 
except by the senses; and the soul alone has senses; and there is 
no corporeal object unless it is truly such; it follows that there 
cannot be a corporeal object unless there is a soul. A. — You 
press me hard and I cannot resist your argument. 

v 5 7. R . — Give your closest attention to this. A . — I am ready, 
i?.— Here is a stone; truly a stone if it is what it seems. It is not a 
stone if it is not a true stone. And it cannot be seen except by 
the senses. A~Well? R. — There are, therefore, no stones hid- 
den deep in the earth where there is no one to see them. That 
would not be a stone unless we were looking at it; nor will it be 
a stone when we depart and there is no one else here to see it. 
If you completely seal up a room containing many objects, 
there will be nothing there. That log will not be composed of 
wood throughout. For the inside of an opaque body escapes the 
senses, and therefore cannot exist. If it existed it would be true; 
what is true is what it appears to be. But this does not appear 
to any one. Therefore it is not true. Have you any reply to this? 
A . — The conclusion seems to spring from what I have admitted. 
But it is equally absurd to deny anything I have said as to 
concede that the conclusion is correct. R . — I do not dispute it. 
But what would you prefer to say: bodily objects can be seen 
apart from the senses; or there can be sense apart from the 
soul; or a stone or any other object can exist without being 
true; or we must find another definition of what is true? A . — Let 
us examine the last alternative. 

8. R , — Give a definition of truth. A. — Truth is that which is 
as it seems to him who knows it, if he will and can know it. 
R. — Then that will not be true which no one can know? If that 
is false which seems otherwise than it is, what happens if this 
seems to one man to be a stone and to another a piece of wood? 
Can the same thing be both false and true? A . — What interests 
me more is how a thing that cannot be known can yet be not 
true. I do not so much care whether one thing can be at the 
same time both true and false. For I see that one thing may be 
compared with several things and may be both greater and 
smaller at the same time. So it happens that nothing in itself is 
either greater or smaller. These words apply when comparisons 
are made. R. — But if you say that nothing is true in itself, are 
you not afraid of the consequence that nothing is in itself? The 
existence of this piece of wood and the truth about it come from 
the same source. It can neither be nor be true by itself without 



46 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

someone to know it. A. — That is why I define in this way, and 
do not fear that my definition should be disapproved because 
it is too short. For that which is seems to me to be true. R . — 
Then, if whatever is is true there will be nothing false. A . — You 
have put me into great difficulty, and I do not know what to 
answer. So, though I do not wish to learn by any other method 
than this of question and answer, nevertheless I am afraid to be 
questioned. 

vi, 9. R . — God to whom we have committed ourselves will 
doubtless lend his aid and deliver us from these difficulties. 
Only let us believe and ask him with the greatest devotion. 
A. — Certainly I would do nothing more willingly at this point, 
for nowhere have I experienced such darkness. God, our Father, 
who dost bid us pray, and givest what we ask of thee if only we 
are better and live better lives as we pray. Hear me as I grope 
in this darkness and stretch out to me thy right hand. Cause thy 
light to shine upon me. Recall me from error. Led by thee may 
I return to myself and to thee. Amen. R . — Give me your utmost 
attention. Listen and watch. A. — Has anything occurred to you 
which can save us? R. — Listen. A. — I am doing nothing else. 

10. R. — First, let us ventilate the problem of falsity. A . — I 
wonder if falsity will be found to be anything else than what is not 
as it seems. R. — Listen rather, and let us first interrogate our 
senses. What the eyes see is not said to be false unless it has some 
resemblance to the truth. For example, a man seen in a dream 
is not a true man but a false one, just because there is resem- 
blance to the truth. No one would say of a dog seen in a dream 
that it was a man. It is a false dog because it resembles a real 
dog. A. — It is as you say. R . — If any one in his waking hours 
saw a horse and thought he saw a man, he would be deceived 
because he seemed to see something resembling a man. For if 
nothing appeared to him but the shape of a horse he could not 
suppose that he had seen a man. A . — Quite so. R . — A painted 
tree, a face in a mirror, the motion of towers as seen by navi- 
gators, the broken oar in water — all these things we say are 
false for no other reason than that they have some resemblance 
to truth. A. — I agree. R. — So we are deceived about twins, 
about eggs, about different seals stamped with one signet-ring, 
and about other similar things. A. — I follow you and agree 
entirely. R. — As regards visible things it is resemblance that is 
the mother of falsity. A . — I cannot deny it. 

11. R. — Unless I am mistaken, this whole thicket can be 
divided into two classes. In the one the resemblance is between 



THE SOLILOQUIES 47 

equals; in the other not so. In the first class are those cases 
where we can say of both equally that the one resembles the 
other; in the case of twins for example, or the impressions of a 
signet-ring. In the other class are those cases where we can say 
that an inferior thing resembles a better. Who, on seeing his face 
in a mirror, would say that he resembled that image and not 
rather that it resembled him? Again this class is divided into 
two: cases which belong to the soul’s experience, and those 
which belong to objects seen. Those which belong to the experi- 
ence of the soul are due either to the senses, as for example the 
false movement of a tower, or to what has been originally re- 
ceived from the senses, like the visions of dreamers and possibly 
of madmen. Furthermore, of resemblances in visible things 
some are brought about by nature, others by living creatures. 
Nature causes inferior resemblances by begetting or by reflec- 
tion: by begetting, as when parents have children who resemble 
them; by reflecting, as from any kind of mirror. No doubt men 
make mirrors, but they do not make the images which mirrors 
reflect. Living creatures make pictures and similar works of 
imagination. And here may be included the figments of demons 
if such exist. Shadows of bodies which closely resemble bodies, 
and may be called false bodies— it is not the function of the 
eyes to decide — these may be put in the class of resemblances 
naturally caused by reflection. In any case, every body exposed 
to light throws a shadow on the side opposite to the light. Have 
you anything to say against all this? A. — Nothing. But I am 
eagerly waiting to hear whither all this tends. 

12. R . — We must be patient until the other senses report also 
that falsity resides in verisimilitude. Take hearing. There again 
there are almost as many classes of resemblance. For example, 
we hear a voice but do not see the speaker, and think it is some- 
one else whose voice resembles the one we hear. Of the inferior 
type of resemblance the echo is a witness, or a ringing in the 
ears, or the imitation of the merle or the raven that we hear in 
clocks, or even those sounds which dreamers and madmen seem 
to hear. It is incredible how false soft notes, of which musicians 
speak, correspond to the truth, as will appear later; it is suffi- 
cient to point out now how closely they resemble true notes. 
You follow me? A. — Yes, most willingly. I have no difficulty in 
understanding. R . — To cut the matter short. Do you think it is 
easy to distinguish one lily from another by smelling, or honey 
from different hives by taste, or the softness of the plumage of 
the swan and the goose by touch? A . — I do not. R . — When we 



48 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

dream that we smell or taste or touch such things, are we not 
deceived because these images resemble the real things though 
in an inferior and vain way? A . — True. R. — So it appears that 
resemblances, whether among equal things or unequal, wheedle 
all our senses and deceive us. Or, if we are not deceived because 
we refuse to be wheedled or because we recognize the difference, 
we call these resemblances false just because we notice that they 
somehow resemble the truth. A . — I cannot doubt it. 

vii, 13. R . — Now listen while I repeat all this, so as to make 
still more clear what I am trying to show you. A . — Speak as you 
will, for I am determined to endure your circuitous course and 
not to weary in it, so great is my hope of reaching the end of the 
journey. R . — Well done. Do you think that when we see two 
similar eggs we can say that one of them is false? A . — By no 
means. If they are eggs, both of them are true eggs. R. — When 
we see an image reflected from a mirror, how do we know that 
it is false? A . — Because it cannot be grasped; it makes no sound; 
it does not move of itself; it is not alive. And there are other in- 
numerable signs which it would take too long to mention. R . — I 
see you wish for no delay and I must adapt myself to your haste. 
Not to repeat everything; if the men we see in dreams could live 
and speak and be grasped by us when we awake, and there was 
no difference between them and those whom we see and 
address when we are awake and of a sound mind, would we say 
that they were false? A . — We could not correctly say so. 
r — Then, if they were true so far as they were very like the 
truth and there was no difference at all between them and real 
men, but were also false so far as they were proved to be unlike 
real men by the tests you have mentioned or by other tests, 
must we not admit that similitude is the mother of truth and 
dissimilitude the mother of falsity? A . — I have nothing I can 
say, and I am ashamed of the rash admission I have just 
made. 

14. R. — It is absurd to be ashamed, as if it were not for this 
very reason that we chose this kind of conversation. As we alone 
take part, I wish the work to be called and entitled “Solilo- 
quies, 55 a new and harsh name perhaps, but quite suitable to 
describe what we are doing. There is no better way of seeking 
truth than by the method of question and answer. But hardly 
anyone can be found who is not ashamed to be proved wrong; 
and so it nearly always happens that a good discussion is spoiled 
by some outburst of obstinacy, with fraying of tempers generally 
concealed but sometimes apparent. Now our plan was, I believe, 



THE SOLILOQUIES 49 

to proceed peaceably and agreeably in our search for truth, with 
God’s help. I was to ask the questions and you were to answer. 
There is no need to fear, if you get tied up in knots, to go back 
and try again. There is no other way out of our present 
difficulty. 

viii, 15. A .— You are right. But I do not see clearly where I 
went wrong. Perhaps it was when I said that a thing is false 
when it has some likeness to the true. Nothing else deserving to 
be so called occurred to me. But now I am compelled to admit 
that false things are so called because they differ from the true. 
Accordingly, unlikeness is itself the cause of falsity. I am con- 
fused for I cannot easily think of anything which has two con- 
trary causes. R . — Perhaps this is the solitary and unique in- 
stance in the whole world. Don’t you know that if you consider 
the innumerable species of animals, the crocodile alone moves 
the upper jaw in eating? Indeed, hardly can two things be 
found identically alike. A. — Yes, I see that. But when I consider 
what we call “ false” and how it is both like and unlike the true, 
I cannot make out whether its falseness is due to the likeness or 
the unlikeness. If to the latter, there will be nothing which can- 
not be called false. For there is nothing which is not unlike 
something we call true. If I say 4 4 to the former” those eggs will 
refute me, because they are true just because they are alike. 
Besides, I shall not escape being compelled to confess that every- 
thing is false, because I cannot deny that all things have a cer- 
tain similarity. But suppose I am not afraid to reply that both 
likeness and unlikeness together entitle a thing to be called false, 
what way out will you give me? I shall be compelled to say that 
all things are false, because all things are partly like and partly 
unlike each other. I should have to say that the false is simply 
that which is not other than it seems, did I not dread those 
many monsters which I thought I had outdistanced. Again; I 
dare not repeat that that is true which is as it seems, remember- 
ing my unexpected giddiness caused by the inference that 
nothing can be true without someone to know it. I dread ship- 
wreck on hidd en rocks which are real even if they are unknown. 
If I say that is true which is, the conclusion will be drawn that 
there is no falsity anywhere, deny it who will. And so the storms 
return, and I see I have made no advance with all your un- 
hurried patience. 

ix, 16. R .— Now listen. I can never be induced to believe 
that we have implored divine aid in vain. After all our inquiry 
I see that nothing remains that we may justly term false except 

A.E.W. 4 



50 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

that which feigns itself to be what it is not, or pretends to be 
when it does not exist. The former kind is either fallacious or 
mendacious. Fallacious, strictly speaking, is that which has a 
certain desire to deceive and this cannot be understood apart 
from the soul. But deceit is practised partly by reason and 
partly by nature; by reason in rational beings like men, by 
nature in beasts like foxes. What I call lying is done by liars. 
The difference between the fallacious and the mendacious is 
that the former all wish to deceive while the latter do not all 
wish to do so. Mimes and comedies and many poems are full 
of lies, but the aim is to delight rather than to deceive. Nearly 
all who make jokes lie. But the fallacious person, strictly speak- 
ing, is he whose design is to deceive. Those who feign without 
intent to deceive are mendacious, or at least no one hesitates to 
call them liars. Have you any objection to urge against this? 

17. A . — Please go on. Perhaps you have begun to teach me 
the truth about falsity. But I am waiting to hear what you have 
to say about the other kind that pretends it is and is not. 
R . — What do you expect? I have given you many examples 
already. Don’t you think that your image in a mirror wants to 
be you but is false because it is not? A. — Yes, I do. R . — And 
every picture, statue, or similar work of art tries to be that on 
which it is modelled. A . — I must agree. R . — You will agree that 
the things which deceive dreamers and madmen are in the 
same class? A . — Yes, these above all. More than anything else 
these pretend to be what men see when they are awake and 
sane. And they are false just because they pretend to be what 
they cannot be. R . — Why need I say more about the apparent 
movement of towers, or the oar plunged in water, or the 
shadows of bodies? It is clear, I think, that they all come under 
this rule. A . — Most clear. R . — I say nothing of the other senses. 
For no one who considers the matter will fail to discover that in 
the realm of the senses that is called false which pretends to be 
something and is not. 

x, 18. A . — You are right. But I wonder why you think poems 
and jests and other fallacious things are to be kept separate 
from this class. R .— It is one thing to will to be false and another 
not to be able to be true. We can classify comedies, tragedies, 
mimes and the like with the works of painters and sculptors. 
The picture of a man, though it tries to be like him, cannot 
be a true man any more than a character in the books of the 
comedians. These things are false not from any will or desire 
of their own, but from the necessity of following the will of 



THE SOLILOQUIES 51 

their authors. On the stage, Roscius wants to be a false Hecuba, 
but by nature he is a true man. By so wanting, he is also a true 
tragedian, so far as he fulfils the part. But he would be a false 
Priam if he gave himself out as Priam and was not. But here 
emerges a strange fact which nobody doubts. A . — What is that? 
R . — In all such matters truth and falsehood are inevitably 
intertwined; indeed, if there is to be truth in one respect there 
must be falsehood in another. How could Roscius be truly a 
tragic actor if he refused to be a false Hector, Andromache, 
Hercules or the like? How could a picture of a horse be truly 
a picture if the horse were not false? How could there be a man’s 
face in a glass, true as such, though not truly a man? So if a cer- 
tain kind of falsity is necessary in order that there should be 
truth, why do we dread falsity and seek truth as a great boon? 
A. — I don’t know, unless it is because there is in these examples 
nothing worthy of our imitation. After all, unlike actors, reflec- 
tions in mirrors, or Myron’s brass cow, we ought not to be both 
true and false: true in our proper garb but false as dressed up to 
represent something else. We ought to seek the absolute truth, 
not that double-faced thing that is partly true and partly false. 
R. — You are asking something great, nay divine. If we find that, 
we shall agree that we have found Truth itself, from which 
everything that is called true derives its quality. A. — I agree 
most heartily. 

xi, 19. R . — Well now, do you think the art of dialectic is 
true or false? A . — Clearly true, and so is the art of literary 
studies [grammatical . R . — Are both equally true? A, — I don’t see 
that there can be degrees of truth. R.~ Yet there may be a truth 
that has no falsehood in it. You have just said that you objected 
to things that cannot be true without an element of falsehood in 
them. You know that literary studies include fables and obvious 
falsehoods. A« — Yes. But the study of literature is not responsible 
for the falsehood. It demonstrates their nature. A fable is a false- 
hood composed for use and pleasure; while literary study is the 
art which guards and controls composition. By its very profes- 
sion it must handle all the products of human speech, whether 
transmitted orally or in writing. It does not originate these 
falsehoods, but gives us scientific knowledge about them. R . — 
Quite right. But I am not concerned at the moment as to 
whether your definition is correct. I want to know whether this 
is properly the function of literary studies or of dialectic. A . — I 
do not deny that the power and skill to define and distinguish, 
as I did just now, belong to dialectic. 



52 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

20 . R. — Literary study is true inasmuch as it is a school dis- 
cipline. Discipline derives its name from discere [to learn]. No 
one who has learnt and who retains what he has learnt can be 
said not to know, and no one can know what is false. Therefore, 
every school discipline is true. A . — I see no rashness in accepting 
that reasoning. I do, however, wonder whether any one will 
think that the fables are true, for we learn and memorize them. 
R . — Surely our teacher did not want us to believe what he 
taught us as well as to know it? A. — Oh no. What he insisted on 
was that we should know it. R. — He never insisted that we 
should believe the tale of Daedalus flying? A. — Never. But if we 
did not hold the tale in memory he made our hands unable to 
hold anything! R . — You do agree that there is such a fable and 
that such is reported of Daedalus? A. — Certainly that is true. 
R. — Then you learned a truth when you learned that fable. If 
on the contrary it were true that Daedalus had wings, and boys 
accepted and repeated it as merely a fictitious fable, their con- 
ception of the tale would be false for the very reason that the 
story they were repeating was true. Here is an example of what 
astonished us a moment ago. There could not truly be a fable 
about the flight of Daedalus unless it were false that Daedalus 
had actually flown in the air. A. — Now I understand. But where 
are we to go from that point? R . — We have shown that the 
reasoning was not false by which we proved that a school dis- 
cipline can be such only if it teach what is true. A. — What has 
that got to do with our problem? R . — Tell me, please, why 
literature is a school discipline, for that will be the answer to 
the question why it is true. A . — I do not know the answer. 
R. — Don’t you think it could not be a discipline if there were 
no definitions in it, no distinctions and distributions into 
classes and parts? A. — Now I know what you mean. I cannot 
imagine a discipline in which there are no definitions, divisions 
and reasonings, where the nature of each thing is not set forth, 
where each part does not receive its due attention without con- 
fusion, where anything relevant is omitted and anything 
irrelevant is admitted. All this is the function of a so-called 
discipline. R. — And because it performs all these functions it is 
said to be true. A . — I see that follows. 

21. R. — Now to what discipline belongs a reasoned account 
of definitions, divisions and distinctions of parts? A . — As was 
said before, all that is contained in the rules of dialectic. R. — 
Therefore, literature as a true discipline is created by the same 
art as you have just defended against the charge of falsehood. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 53 

And I may draw this conclusion not only in the case of literature 
but of all the disciplines. For you truly said that you could 
think of no discipline which did not exercise the function of 
definition and distribution, for this function was the essence of 
a discipline. But if the disciplines are true by their very nature, 
will anyone deny that it is by truth itself that all disciplines are 
true? A . — You have almost my entire assent. But I have this 
difficulty. We have counted dialectic among the disciplines. 
Now I think, rather, that it is itself the Truth whence reason 
derives truth. R . — Most excellently said and most acutely. But 
you do not deny, I suppose, that as a discipline it is true? 
A . — Oh no; that is my point. I know that it is a discipline and 
therefore true. R . — It could not be a discipline unless there were 
definition and distribution of its subject matter? A . — Exactly. 
R . — But if, besides, to it belongs the task of defining and dis- 
tributing universally it would be the souce of truth in all the 
disciplines. Who will think it surprising if that by which all 
things are true is in and by itself the very Truth? A . — I have no 
difficulty in immediately accepting that statement. 

xii, 22. R > — Then little remains to be said, so listen. A . — Go 
on, and provided I can understand, I shall gladly agree. R.— 
We quite understand that one thing can be said to be in another 
in two ways: first, in such a way that it can be separated and 
put elsewhere, e.g., this piece of wood in this place, or the sun 
in the East; and second, in such a way that it cannot be 
separated, e.g., the form and appearance which we see in this 
piece of wood, or light in the sun, or heat in fire, or learning in a 
mind and such like. Do you agree? A . — That is an old old story 
to me. I had it drilled into me at the beginning of my adoles- 
cence,, So I can agree without a moment’s deliberation. R . — 
Then that which exists inseparably in a subject cannot continue 
to exist if the subject itself is destroyed? A . — That must be true; 
for anyone who diligently considers the matter knows that even 
when the subject remains, that which is in it may not remain. 
The colour of the body may be changed by reason of ill-health 
or age though the body itself has not perished. This is not 
equally true in all cases, but only in those cases in which the 
quality is not: essential to the existence of the subject. That wall 
is not a wall by reason of the colour we see now. It would re- 
main a wall even if by any chance it became black or white or 
otherwise changed its colour. On the other hand, if fire ceased 
to be hot, it would not be fire, and we cannot think of snow 
without whiteness. 



54 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

xiii, 23. But to go back to your question. Who could allow 
or admit as a possibility that what exists in a subject could con- 
tinue to exist when the subject itself has ceased to exist? It is 
quite absurd and quite untrue that a thing, A, which can only 
exist in another thing, B, can continue to exist when B has 
ceased to exist. R. — Then we have found what we were seeking. 
A . — What is that you tell me? R. — Exactly as you heard. A . — Is 
it, then, crystal-clear that the soul is immortal? i?.— Absolutely 
clear, if all that you have admitted is true. Unless, of course, you 
can say that the soul exists after it is dead. A. — I could not say 
that. I should say that by the very fact of its dying the soul has 
ceased to exist. Nor is my opinion weakened by the statement 
of certain great philosophers that that which confers life by its 
presence cannot admit of death. No doubt a light causes light 
wherever it shines and cannot admit of darkness, according to 
the celebrated principle of contraries. Nevertheless, it can be 
extinguished and, thereby, the place becomes dark. That which 
resists darkness, and can in no way admit of darkness, never- 
theless gives place to darkness by being extinguished or re- 
moved. My fear is lest in the same way death comes to the body 
by the removal or extinguishing of the soul. So I cannot be 
quite sure about every kind of death. There might be a prefer- 
able kind, in which the soul was safely removed from the body 
and brought to a place, if there is such a place, where it would 
not be extinguished. If this is not possible, and the soul is like a 
light kindled in the body and cannot continue anywhere else, 
and death is the extinction of soul and life in the body, then a 
man must choose as far as he may to live his present life in 
security and tranquillity; and yet I do not know how that is to 
be done if the soul is mortal. Happy are those who know by them- 
selves or from some other source that death is not to be feared 
even if the soul too dies. Unhappily no reasons or books have 
availed to persuade me of this. 

24. R. — Don’t lament. The human soul is immortal. A . — 
How do you prove it? R . — From what you have already ad- 
mitted after most careful consideration. A . — I certainly do not 
remember admitting anything carelessly. But, pray, sum it all 
up now and let us see where we have arrived by all these round- 
about ways. I don’t want to be asked any more questions. If 
you will now briefly outline our agreements, there will be no 
need for me to reply. Why should you delay my rejoicing if in- 
deed we have reached a good result? R. — I shall do as I see you 
wish, but listen diligently. A. — Speak now. I am listening. Why 



THE SOLILOQUIES 55 

do you torment me? R . — If a thing, A, existing in another 
thing, B, lasts for ever, B must last for ever. All scientific learning 
is in a subject, the mind. Therefore, if learning is eternal, the 
mind also must be eternal. Moreover, scholastic learning is 
Truth and, as reason persuaded us at the beginning of this book, 
Truth is eternal. Therefore the mind is eternal and cannot die. 
He alone will reasonably deny that the mind is immortal who 
proves that some of our propositions have not been correctly 
agreed to. 

xiv, 25. A . — I want to break out into rejoicing straight 
away, but two things cause me to hesitate. In the first place, I 
observe that we have used a circuitous route following a lengthy 
chain of reasoning, when the whole problem could quite as 
easily have been demonstrated briefly, as it has at last been 
demonstrated,, What makes me anxious is that our talk has 
wandered round and round so long, as if an ambush were being 
laid. And secondly, I do not see how a scholastic discipline can 
be in the mind eternally; especially dialectic, seeing so few know 
it, and these have had to be indoctrinated from their youth. 
We cannot say that the minds of the unlearned are not minds, 
or that they have learning and do not know it. That would be 
utterly absurd. It remains either that truth is not always in a 
mind, or that scholastic discipline is not truth. 

26. /?. — Not in vain has our reasoning taken these circuitous 
ways. Our problem was, What is Truth? and I see that not even 
as it is have we been able to investigate it thoroughly, though we 
have tried almost every path, however rough, through the 
thicket. What are we to do? Shall we give up the attempt and 
wait till some other man’s book comes into our hands and gives 
a satisfactory answer to our question? I think that before our 
time many books have been written which we have not read, 
and, not to speak of what we do not know, many are written in 
verse and prose, by men whose writings cannot escape our 
notice, and whose genius we know to be such that we cannot 
despair of finding in them what we want. Especially before our 
eyes there is Ambrose, in whom we recognize that eloquence 
has perfectly come to life again, which we had mourned as dead. 
Will he who by his writings has taught us the true manner of 
living allow us to be ignorant of the nature of living? A . — For 
myself I think not, and I have great hopes from that source. 
But one thing I am sorry for, that I have had no opportunity 
to reveal to him as I wish my assiduity towards himself and 
towards wisdom. For assuredly he would have pity on my 



56 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

thirst, and would give me drink much more speedily than I can 
find it myself. He is untroubled by doubt and is thoroughly 
persuaded as to the immortality of the soul. Perhaps he does not 
know that there are some made miserable by their ignorance of 
this, whom it is cruel not to help, especially when they seek 
help. My friend, Zenobius, also knows my ardour. But he is far 
away, and, as I am situated at present, there is hardly any 
chance of sending him a letter. In his leisure beyond the Alps I 
dare say he has finished the poem by which he hoped to charm 
away the fear of death, and to drive from his soul the numbness 
and cold induced by the perennial northern ice. Meantime, 
until those things come which are not at present in our power, 
it would be a shame to waste our leisure and let our whole mind 
depend on an uncertain judgment. 

xv, 27. Where is that for which we have prayed and do pray 
to God? Not riches for ourselves, or bodily pleasures, or popular 
honours and applause, but that a way may be opened to us as 
we seek God and the soul. Will he abandon us or we him? 
R . — It is far from his way to abandon those who seek such 
things. So it should be far from us to forsake so great a leader. 
So, if you please, let us briefly repeat the arguments for these 
two propositions that Truth is eternal, and that the science of 
dialectic is Truth. These you said were shaky, so that we could 
not be sure of the entire edifice we have erected. Or shall we 
rather inquire how there can be scientific learning in an un- 
trained mind, which we must none the less regard as a mind? 
For this question seemed to disturb you and make it necessary 
to question what you had admitted. A . — Let us discuss the first 
question to begin with, then we shall see what is to be made of 
the second. In this way, no controversy will remain unsettled. 
R . — So be it. But give me your most careful and undivided 
attention. I know that you are too eager about the conclusion 
and want it to be reached immediately, so that you agree to 
what is suggested to you without due examination. A . — Perhaps 
you are right. I shall strive with all my might against this kind 
of sickness. Only begin, and do not let us be delayed by 
superfluities. 

28. R . — So far as I remember, we concluded that Truth could 
not perish, because if the whole world, nay, if Truth itself 
perished, it would still be true that the world and Truth had 
perished. But nothing is true without Truth. Hence Truth can- 
not perish. A . — I remember, and I should be much surprised if 
this were false. R . — Let us then proceed to the second question. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 57 

A . — Give me a little time to consider, in case I should have to 
go back again which would be a shame. R . — It will not be true 
that Truth has perished? If not, then it did not perish. If it is 
true, how, after the decease of Truth, can anything be true? 
For then there will be no Truth. A. — I have no need of further 
consideration., Go on to the other question. We shall at least do 
what we can, so that learned and understanding men may read 
these words and correct any rash utterance. For myself, I do 
not think that now or ever anything can be found to urge 
against these conclusions. 

29. R, — Truth is that by which anything that is true is true? 
A. — Certainly. R . — Nothing is said to be true except what is 
not false? A.— It would be silly to doubt it. R . — Is not that false 
which has a certain likeness to something, but is not that to 
which it bears a resemblance? A . — To nothing else would I 
more freely give the name of false. And yet that is commonly 
called false which is very unlike the true. R . — Undeniably. 
But there is always some imitation of the true. A. — But how? 
When we are told that Medea joined together winged serpents 
and sped through the air, there is no imitation of what is true. 
For the tale is not true, and there can be no imitation of what 
does not exist. R . — Quite right. But observe that a thing which 
does not exist cannot even be said to be false. If it is false it 
exists. If it does not exist it is not false. A . — Are we not, then, to 
say that that monstrous story about Medea is false? R . — Not 
exactly. If it is false, how is it monstrous? A . — Here is a sur- 
prising thing. When I hear of 4 4 Huge winged serpents joined 
together by a yoke” I am not to say it is false. R . — Of course 
you are, but that implies something that exists. A . — What 
exists? R . — The statement expressed in that verse. A. — And 
where is there any imitation of the true in it? R . — Because it is 
stated as if Medea had really done it. A false statement is ex- 
pressed exactly like a true one. If it is not intended to be be- 
lieved, a false statement resembles a true one only in gram- 
matical form. It is simply false and has no intent to deceive. If 
it demands belief it more obviously imitates a true statement. 
A— Now I understand that there is a great difference between 
mere statements and the objects about which statements are 
made. Now I agree, for you haive removed my only reason for 
doubting, that we cannot rightly call anything false unless it 
imitates something that is true. A man who called a stone false 
silver would be justly laughed at. But if he were to say that a 
stone was silver, we should say that what he said was false, that 



58 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

is, he had uttered a false statement. But it would not be absurd 
to call tin or lead false silver, for there is some resemblance. The 
falsehood lies not in our statement but in the material objects 
about which it is made. 

xvi, 30. R. — You have understood perfectly. But could we 
appropriately call silver by the name of false lead? A . — I do not 
think so. R. — Why? A . — I don’t know. I see no reason, except 
that I should be most unwilling to do so. R . — Possibly because 
silver is a more precious metal, and to call it imitation lead 
would be insulting; while to call lead imitation silver would be 
doing it honour, so to speak. A . — You have exactly explained 
my feelings. I believe that men are rightly held to be infamous 
and incapable of bearing witness or making a will who show 
themselves in women’s garb. I do not know whether I should 
rather call them false women or false men. We can without 
hesitation call them true actors or truly infamous. Or if they 
are not found out, and we cannot use the word infamous unless 
there is public ill fame, we can at least truthfully call them truly 
worthless fellows. R . — We can discuss that at another time. For 
many things that seem base to the popular eye, are clearly hon- 
ourable when seen in the light of some laudable purpose. It is a 
big problem whether for the sake of his country’s liberty a man 
may don a woman’s dress in order to deceive the enemy. In this 
case, by being a false woman he might be more truly a man. 
And should a sage, who somehow knew that his life was neces- 
sary for the welfare of mankind, prefer to die of cold rather than 
be clad in female garments, if nothing else were available? But 
as I said, we can discuss that again. At any rate you perceive 
how much inquiry would be necessary as to the limits of such 
actions, to transgress which would involve a man in inexcusable 
baseness. But so far as our present problem is concerned, I think 
it is now clear and beyond doubt that nothing is false except by 
some imitation of the true. 

xvii, 31. A . — Go on to the rest of the argument, for I en- 
tirely accept this. R . — I ask, then, whether in addition to the 
scholastic disciplines, with which must be numbered the pur- 
suit of wisdom, we can find anything so true that, unlike the 
Achilles of the theatre, it is not partly true and partly false. 
A. — Indeed I think many things can be found. The disciplines 
have nothing to do with that stone, and yet as a true stone it 
imitates nothing whereby it might be said to be false. This one 
example will show that we need name no others, for innumer- 
able things will spontaneously occur to any one who thinks. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 59 

R. — Quite so. But don’t you think they could all be included in 
one category, material objects? A. — Yes, if I were sure that 
there is no such thing as the void; if I thought that the mind was 
to be numbered among material things, and if I believed that 
God too was corporeal. If all this is granted, I see that every- 
thing that exists is true, having no false imitation. R . — You are 
sending us out on a long discussion, but I shall be as brief as I 
can. At least what you call the void is a very different thing 
from the Truth. A. — Very different. What could be more void 
of sense than for me, if I think Truth is a void, to seek so 
earnestly what is vain? What else do I desire to find but Truth? 
R.— You will allow that nothing is true which is not made to 
be true by Truth. A . — That has been perfectly clear for a long 
time. R . — You do not doubt that there is nothing besides the 
void unless it be matter? A. — I do not. R . — Then it appears that 
you think Truth is a material thing. A. — Not at all. R. — Is it in 
a material body? A . — I do not know, but it does not matter. I 
am sure you know that, if there is a void, it is where there is no 
material body. R . — That is clear. A . — Why, then, do we delay? 
R . — Do you think that Truth has created the void, or that any- 
thing is true where there is no Truth? A.— I do not. R. — Then 
the void is not true. Nothing can be made void by that which 
is not void. And it is clear that nothing is true where Truth is 
not, and the void is so called because it is nothing. How, there- 
fore, can that; be true which does not exist? Indeed, how can 
that exist which is absolutely nothing? A. — Come, then, let us 
leave the void as being utterly void. 

xviii, 32. R. — What about the other questions? A. — Which? 
R . — Those which you see are my chief interest. I mean the 
soul and God. If these two are true because Truth is in them, 
no one doubts concerning the immortality of God. Moreover, 
the soul is believed to be immortal if Truth, which cannot 
perish, is proved to be in it. Wherefore, let us look at the final 
question, whether material substance be not truly true, that is, 
whether there be in it not Truth, but only a kind of semblance 
of Truth. For if in the body, which certainly perishes, we find 
such truth as is found in the sciences, the science of dialectic 
will not be the Truth in virtue of which all the sciences are 
true. For corporeal substance is true, though it does not seem 
to have been formed by the rational process of dialectic. If 
matter is true by imitation and therefore not perfectly true, 
there will be nothing to prevent dialectic being claimed as the 
very Truth. A. — Meantime, let us inquire about matter. Not 



6o 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


even when this is determined do I see that controversy settled. 
R . — How do you know the will of God? But listen. I think 
matter is contained in some form or outward appearance with- 
out which it would not be matter. If it had true form it would 
be soul. Am I wrong? A. — I agree with your first proposition, 
but about the second I am in doubt. I agree that unless it were 
contained in some shape it would not be matter. But I fail to 
understand how it would be soul if it had true form. R . — Don’t 
you remember speaking about geometrical figures at the begin- 
ning of the first book? A . — Thanks for reminding me. Of course, 
I remember. R. — Do you find in material objects such figures 
as geometry employs? A . — Oh, no. Much inferior ones. R . — 
Which, then, of the two do you think are true? A. — Please do not 
think I need to be asked such a question. Who is so blind as not 
to see that the figures employed in geometry belong to the 
Truth, or that Truth is in them; while the figures exhibited in 
material objects, though indeed they seem to resemble geo- 
metrical figures, somehow imitate the truth and are to that ex- 
tent false. Now I understand all you were trying to show me. 

xix, 33. R . — There is no need, then, to inquire about dia- 
lectic. Whether geometrical figures belong to Truth, or Truth 
is in them, no one doubts that they are contained in our minds, 
so that necessarily Truth is in our minds. But if any scientific 
discipline is in the mind inseparably, and Truth cannot perish, 
why, pray, should we doubt concerning the everlasting life of 
the mind because of our familiarity with death? Has the geo- 
metrical line or square or circle anything else to imitate in 
order that it may be true? A. — I cannot believe it, unless a line 
is other than length without breadth, and a circle is other than 
a line drawn round a centre and always equally distant from 
the centre. R. — Why, then, do we hesitate? Is there no Truth 
in the mathematical line and circle? A. — God avert such 
stupidity! R. — Is scientific learning not in the mind? A. — Who 
could say that? R. — Possibly that which is in a subject may con- 
tinue when the subject itself has been destroyed? A. — I could 
never be so persuaded. R. — Perhaps Truth may pass away? 
A. — How could that be? R. — Very well then, the soul is im- 
mortal. Now trust your reasonings. Trust Truth. It cries out 
that it dwells in you, that it is immortal, that it can never be 
forced to abandon its dwelling place by any kind of bodily 
death. Turn away from your shadow, and return to your in- 
ward self. There is no death for you unless you forget that you 
are of such a nature that you cannot die. A . — As I listen to you 



THE SOLILOQUIES 


6l 


I begin to understand and to grasp your meaning. But please 
elucidate a question which has been left over. How are science 
and truth to be understood to exist in a mind untrained at least 
if we may not call it mortal? R . — That question would require 
another volume if it were to be fully treated. I see you must think 
over the things we have investigated according to our powers; 
for if no doubt remains concerning them I think we have done 
a good day’s work, and can go on to investigate other problems 
with no little sense of security. 

xx, 34. A . — It is as you say, and I willingly obey your be- 
hests. And yet, before you bring this volume to an end, I should 
like to ask you briefly to explain what is the difference between 
a true figure, such as is grasped by the intelligence, and one 
such as the imagination depicts, which in Greek is called a 
phantasy or a phantasm. R . — None but the most pure can 
understand that, and you have had too little practice in philo- 
sophy to be able to see it. In all these circuitous arguments we 
have been simply exercising your powers so that you may be- 
come fit to see it. But perhaps I may briefly explain how the 
vast difference may be made known. Suppose you have for- 
gotten something and your friends want you to recall it to your 
memory. They will say, “Is it this? Is it that?” mentioning 
various things of a similar kind. You do not recall what you are 
seeking, but you know that it is none of the things they have 
mentioned. Now surely what has happened is not entire 
oblivion? For the discernment which refuses to accept a false 
suggestion is itself a kind of memory. A. — Seemingly. R . — In 
such a case you do not yet see the truth, but you are not de- 
ceived, for you have some idea of what it is you are looking for. 
But if some one were to tell you that you smiled a few days after 
you were born, you do not venture to say it is false. If the speaker 
is one whom you can trust, you will not remember the fact but 
you will believe it. That whole period is buried for you in utter 
oblivion. Don’t you think so? A . — I quite agree. R . — This kind 
of forgetfulness differs greatly from the other kind we have just 
spoken of, which has a sort of intermediate position between 
forgetfulness and remembering. It is closer to remembering and 
reviving a truth. A similar situation occurs when we see some- 
thing and are quite certain we have seen it before. We say that 
we know it, but where, when, how, in whose company it came 
to our notice, we cannot recall without a great deal of trouble. 
Or we may meet a man and have to ask where we made his 
acquaintance. When he reminds us, the whole thing suddenly 



62 


Augustine: earlier writings 


comes back to our memory as if a light had been kindled, and 
we have no further trouble in recalling it. Is this kind of experi- 
ence unknown to you or strange? A . — Nothing is plainer, for 
nothing happens to me more frequently. 

35. R . — Such are those who are well educated in the liberal 
arts. Doubtless in learning them they draw them out from the 
oblivion 1 that has overwhelmed them, or dig them out as 
it were. They are not content until they fully behold the 
face of Truth, whose splendour glimmers even now in these 
liberal arts. But from these arts, too, some false colours and 
shapes are reflected, as it were, on the mirror of the mind, and 
often deceive inquirers into thinking that that is all they can 
know or look for. These imaginations are to be avoided with 
the greatest care. They are proved fallacious because they vary 
as the mirror of the mind varies. The face of Truth remains one 
and immutable. The mind will depict a square now of this size, 
now of that and present it to the eye. But the inward mind 
which seeks to see the truth turns rather, if it has the power, to 
the ideal square by which all squareness is judged. A . — Sup- 
posing someone says that the mind judges according to what it 
is accustomed to see with the eyes? R. — How, then, does it 
judge, as it will do if it is well trained, that a true sphere of any 
size whatever will touch a true plane surface at a single point? 
How can the eye ever see any such thing, which cannot even 
be imagined by thought? Do we not prove this when we think 
of the smallest imaginable circle and draw lines to the centre? 
If we draw two lines so close together that the point of a needle 
can hardly penetrate between them, we cannot even in imagina- 
tion draw other intermediate lines that will reach the centre 
without coinciding. And yet reason proclaims that innumerable 
intermediate lines can be drawn in that incredibly narrow 
space, and that they will not touch except at the centre, indeed 
that between any two of them a circle can be drawn. Now if 
phantasy cannot take this in but is even more defective than the 
eyes which are responsible for inflicting it on the mind, clearly 
phantasy is very different from truth and cannot see it. 

1 Cp. Retract . I, iv, 4. Referring to this passage Augustine writes, “I do not 
approve this. When even untrained persons, suitably questioned, are 
able to return correct answers, a more credible reason is that they have 
according to their capacity the presence of the light of the Eternal Reason. 
Hence they catch a glimpse of immutable truth. The reason is not that they 
once knew it and have forgotten, as Plato and others like him have thought.” 
In his early writings Augustine seems to have held the Platonic doctrine of 
Reminiscence. It is rejected in De Trinit, XII, xv, 24. 



THE SOLILOQUIES 63 

36. We shall speak of these things with greater care and 
subtlety when we begin to discuss the intelligence, which it is 
our intention to do, after we have discussed and solved the 
problem of the life of the soul as far as we are able. I suspect 
that you rather fear that death, even if it do not slay the soul, 
nevertheless may bring oblivion of everything, even of such 
truth as may have been discovered. A . — I cannot express 
strongly enough how much this evil is to be feared. What kind 
of eternal life would that be, and what death would not be 
preferable, if the soul so lived as we see it in a boy newly born? 
Not to mention the life lived in the womb, which I suppose 
must be called life. R . — Be of good courage. God will grant us 
his presence as we have experienced it in our present quest. 
He promises us a most blessed future after this bodily life, a 
future full of truth without any falsehood. 

Note 

The work is manifestly incomplete. A third book of Soliloquies 
was projected, and material for it was collected while Augustine 
was at Milan after his return from Cassiciacum. This material 
is contained in the De Animae Immortalitate , which he tells us 
was published without his consent, and in an unfinished condi- 
tion. “By reason of its brevity and the confusion of its argument 
it is so obscure that it is wearisome to read, and my meaning is 
scarcely intelligible even to myself.’ 5 Retract . I, y, i. 



The Teacher 


Augustine's Review of the De Magistro. Retractations /, xii 

About the same time I wrote a book entitled De Magistro , in 
which we discuss and inquire and discover that there is no 
teacher who teaches man knowledge except God according to 
what is written in the Gospel, “One is your teacher, even 
Christ” (Matt. 23:10). The book begins: Quid tibi videmur 
ejfcere velle cum loquimur? 


The Teacher 

INTRODUCTION 

T he De Magistro is briefly reviewed in the Retractations 
between the De Musica and the De Vera Religione , and is 
said to have been written about the same time as the 
former, i.e., about 389, after Augustine’s return to Tagaste. 
It is a dialogue with his natural son Adeodatus, who was then 
in his sixteenth year, and who died an early death shortly after. 
Of Adeodatus there is an interesting notice in the Confessions 
(IX, vi. 14). Along with his father and Alypius there was 
baptized by Ambrose in Milan on Easter Day, 387, “the boy 
Adeodatus, my son after the flesh, born of my sin. He was 
hardly fifteen years old, but in intelligence he excelled many 
grave and learned men. I acknowledge thy gifts in him, O Lord, 
my God. ... I had nothing to give to that boy except the sin 
which I transmitted to him. Thou, none else, didst inspire in us 
the thought of bringing him up in thy discipline. I confess thine 

64 



THE TEACHER 


6 5 

own gifts to thee. There is a book of mine extant called The 
Teacher , in which he took part with me. Thou knowest that all 
the opinions there expressed by my interlocutor were actually 
his when he was in his sixteenth year. I experienced many other 
marvellous things about him. His ability made me stand in awe 
of him. Who save thou can be the doer of such miracles? Thou 
didst remove his life early from this earth, and I remember him 
with all the greater confidence as I have no reason to fear for 
him any sins of boyhood, adolescence or manhood.” Adeodatus 
was also present at the discussion on The Happy Life, during 
the sojourn at Cassiciacum — “the youngest member of the 
company, whose ability, unless parental fondness deceives me, 
shows great promise.” He naturally takes but a minor part in 
the Dialogue, but his suggestion that “having God” means 
“having no unclean spirit” was received with approbation by 
Monica and by Augustine too, who gently points out that it is 
equivalent to “living well.” 

If it is true that the De Magistro gives the actual contribution 
of Adeodatus to the discussion, his father’s admiration for his 
ability is fully justified. As we have seen, he had been brought 
up as a Christian, and we may suppose that his general educa- 
tion had not been neglected. This dialogue between father and 
son may well exemplify the care taken to improve his talents, at 
all events it is in part an exercise in dialectic. Among its attrac- 
tive features is the recurrence of the personal touch — the play- 
fulness here and there on both sides, the father’s commendation 
of the son’s acuteness, caution, modesty, and willingness to be 
corrected when wrong without loss of temper; and the son’s 
obvious respect for the father, combined with tenacity in 
argument. 

The Dialogue is an essay in epistemology. How is knowledge 
of truth attained? How are ideas communicated? What part 
does teaching play in the process of learning? The first section 
(1-18) is an exercise in pure dialectic to very little purpose 
except as an exercise, as is admitted. Fortunately it is briefly 
and clearly summarized by Adeodatus in a quite masterly 
fashion (19-20). The important part begins at x, 29 with the 
discussion of the relation between words and reality. Words are 
but signs, important as pointing beyond themselves to reality, 
but not by themselves imparting knowledge. At most they 
stimulate inquiry. Knowledge can be gained only as a result of 
an internal process in the mind of the pupil. All that the 
teacher can do by means of words is to elicit the truth. Truth 

A.JtrW. 5 



66 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


is interior to the mind and cannot be communicated from 
without. But this does not mean that truth is subjective. It 
comes from God, whose eternal Truth, Christ, dwells in minds 
prepared to receive him. Christ is the inward teacher of all who 
can or will listen to him. Of course, the things Christ teaches 
are held to be the universal truths of reason. Historical events, 
e.g., the story of the Three Youths of Daniel 3:27, are not 
matters of knowledge but of “useful” faith. 


ANALYSIS 
i, 1 — iii, 6. Introduction. 

(1) We use words to let others know what we are thinking, to 
teach or remind them of something we have in mind. 

(2) We also use words when we pray, though we need not tell 
God anything. We use them also in thinking, but only to 
bring to mind the things they signify. Words are simply sig- 
nificant signs. (3) It is well-nigh impossible to get behind 
signs to “things.” (4) Synonyms are signs too. (5) So are ges- 
tures, e.g., pointing to a visible object. Gesture-signs may be 
elaborate, e.g., Deaf-and-dumb signs, and miming. (6) But 
actions can be demonstrated without signs by merely per- 
forming them. 

iv, 7 — vi, 18. Words as Signs signifying merely Signs 
(Synonyms). 

(7) We are first to consider signs which signify signs, especially 
words spoken or written. (8) Distinction between signs and 
things signified (signiftcabilia ) , (9) “sign”: “word”: “name.” 
A word is an articulated spoken sign. A name is a parti- 
cular kind of word, denoting a particular thing, e.g., river. 

(11) “Word” and “name” in the general sense (not in the 
special sense of “verb” and “noun”) are nearly synonymous, 

(12) verbum suggesting the physical aspect, nomen the mental 
aspect. (13) Any word, any part of speech, may be used as a 
noun. Several proofs follow (13-17). 

vii, 19 — viii, 21. Recapitulation; Estimate of the Value of the 
Exercise. 

viii, 22 — ix, 28. Signs which signify Things. 

(22) The word homo signifies a man but is not a man. (23) No 
lion has come out of the mouth of one who has pronounced 
the word! (24) When the word homo is used, simply the noun 
may be meant, or an actual man. (25) Things signified are 



THE TEACHER 


67 

more important than their signs because (26) the end is more 
important than the means. So far as words are the means of 
communicating knowledge they are valuable, but not so pre- 
cious as the knowledge itself. (28) Education is a good thing, 
for it supplies not merely knowledge of the words “virtue 55 
and “vice,” but also knowledge of the virtues and the vices, all 
of which is necessary for the good life. 

, 29-xiii, 45. Final Problem. Things known without Signs. 
(30) We teach by giving signs, and nothing can be taught 
without signs; and yet (32) many things, e.g., natural objects, 
can be known without signs by those who have eyes to see 
them. (33) In fact nothing is learnt from signs or words. If I 
know the meaning of a word that word teaches me nothing 
new. If I do not know the meaning of a word, again it 
teaches me nothing. (34) A word is only intelligible if I know 
by personal experience the thing it signifies. Otherwise it can 
only stimulate inquiry. (37) We may know the meaning of all 
the words used to describe an historical event, but the event 
itself cannot be known. It can only be believed. (38) Know- 
ledge is of universals, and these we do not learn by means of 
words. We must consult the Eternal Wisdom of God, i.e., 
Christ, who dwells in the inner man, gives men to see the 
truth according to the ability of each. And this ability de- 
pends on the moral quality of the will. (39) Knowledge is 
either sense-knowledge or intellectual-knowledge. Neither is 
conveyed by words. The former comes by sense-perception, 
the latter by contemplation. Sense-knowledge of things past 
is stored as images in the memory, and cannot be communi- 
cated except to those who have shared the experience. When 
spoken of, it may or may not be believed. (40) General truths 
of reason are not taught, but are somehow in the mind and 
only require to be discovered by skilful questioning. They are 
not put in the mind of the pupil by the teacher. (41) The 
pupil judges of what the teacher says in the light of the in- 
ward truth. (42 ff.) Words need not even reveal the mind of 
the speaker. There may be deception or misunderstanding. 
(45) Even if we admit that in general words do reveal the 
mind of the speaker, do not these exceptions suggest that the 
correspondence of word and thought is never quite exact? 
Teachers do not profess to teach their own opinions but ob- 
jective truth, of which the pupil judges. No man is really a 
teacher. The idea that some men are teachers arises from the 
fact that apprehension of truth follows without appreciable 



68 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

interval on the words of the teacher, but the two processes 
are separable, 
xiv, 46. Epilogue. 

Words simply put us on the alert, and make us ready to learn. 
Knowledge comes not from outside by external means, but 
from the Master who dwells within, Christ the Truth of God. 



The Teacher 


A Dialogue between Augustine and his son Adeodatus 

THE TEXT 

i, i. Augustine . — What do you suppose is our purpose when 
we use words? Adeodatus . — The answer that occurs to me at the 
moment is, we want to let people know something, or we want 
to learn something. Augustine . — I agree at once with the former, 
for it is clear that when we use words we want to let somebody 
know something. But in what way do we show that we wish 
to learn? Adeodatus. — When we ask questions, of course. Aug . — 
Even then, as I understand it, we want to let somebody know 
something. Do you ask a question for any other reason than to 
show the person questioned what you want to know? Ad. — No. 
Aug. — You see, then, that when we use words we desire nothing 
but to let someone know something. Ad. — Not quite, perhaps. 
If speaking means using words, I see that we do so when we 
sing. Now we often sing when we are alone, with no one present 
to hear us; and then I cannot think we want to tell anyone 
anything. Aug. — And yet I think there is a kind of teaching, and 
a most important kind, which consists in reminding people of 
something. I believe this will be made clear as our conversation 
proceeds. If, however, you do not think that we learn by remem- 
bering, or that he who reminds us of something really teaches 
us, I do not press the point. I assert that there are two reasons 
for our using words, either to teach, or to remind others or, it 
may be, ourselves. And we do this also when we sing. Don’t you 
agree? 

Ad. — Well, hardly. For I very rarely sing to remind myself 
of anything, almost always simply to give myself pleasure. 
Aug. — I see what you mean. But don’t you notice that what 
pleases you in singing is the melody? Now this can be added to 
the words or not added, so that singing is not the same thing as 

69 



70 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

speaking. Flutes and harps make melody. Birds sing. Sometimes 
we hum a bit of music without words. All these things may be 
called singing but not speaking. Do you disagree? Ad. — No. Not 
at all. 

2. Aug . — You agree, then, that there is no other reason for 
the use of words than either to teach or to call something to 
mind? Ad . — I would agree were I not impressed by the fact 
that we use words when we pray; and it is not proper to believe 
that we teach God anything or remind him of anything. Aug .— I 
dare say you do not know that we have been commanded to 
pray in closed chambers, by which is meant our inmost mind, 
for no other reason than that God does not seek to be reminded 
or taught by our speech in order that he may give us what we 
desire. He who speaks gives by articulate sounds an external 
sign of what he wants. But God is to be sought and prayed to 
in the secret place of the rational soul, which is called “the 
inner man. 55 This he wants to be his temple. Have you not read 
in the Apostle: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, 
and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 55 (i Cor. 3:16) and 
“that Christ may dwell in the inner man 55 (Eph. 3:17)? Have 
you not observed in the Prophet: “Commune with your own 
hearts and be stricken on your beds. Offer the sacrifice of 
righteousness and hope in the Lord 55 (Ps. 4:4-5)? Where do you 
think the sacrifice of righteousness is offered save in the temple 
of the mind and on the bed of the heart? Where sacrifice is to be 
offered, there is prayer to be made. Wherefore when we pray 
there is no need of speech, that is of articulate words, except 
perhaps as priests use words to give a sign of what is in their 
minds, not that God may hear, but that men may hear and, 
being put in remembrance, may with some consent be brought 
into dependence on God. What do you think? Ad . — I entirely 
agree. Aug . — And you are not disturbed by the fact that our 
great Master, in teaching his disciples to pray, taught them 
certain words, so that it looks as if he had taught them actually 
what words to use in prayer? Ad. — No. That does not disturb 
me. For he did not teach them words merely, but by words, by 
means of which they could keep themselves in constant remem- 
brance, he taught them realities — what they should pray for, 
and from whom, when they prayed in their inmost mind, as we 
said. Aug . — You have correctly understood the point. And I 
believe you have also noticed a further point. It might be con- 
tended that, though we utter no sound, we nevertheless use 
words in thinking and therefore use speech within our minds. 



THE TEACHER 


71 

But such speech is nothing but a calling to remembrance of the 
realities of which the words are but the signs, for the memory, 
which retains the words and turns them over and over, causes 
the realities to come to mind. Ad. — I understand and follow. 

ii, 3. Aug— We agree, then, that words are signs. Ad. — We 
do. Aug , — That alone can be a sign which signifies something? 
Ad. — Certainly. Aug. — How many words are there in this 
verse? 

Si nihil ex tanta superis placet urbe relinqui 

[If it pleases the gods that nothing be left of so great a city] 

Ad. — Eight. Aug. — Then there are eight signs? Ad. — There are. 
Aug. — I suppose you understand the meaning of the verse. 
Ad.— Yes, I think so. Aug. — Tell me what each word signifies. 
Ad. — I know what si signifies, but I can think of no other word 
to explain it. Aug. — At least you can explain the state of mind 
signified by that word. Ad. — It seems to me to signify doubt, 
and doubt is found in the mind. Aug. — I accept that in the 
meantime. Go on to the next word. Ad. — Nihil signifies simply 
what is not. Aug. — Perhaps you are right. But I am prevented 
from giving my assent by what you admitted a moment ago. 
You agreed that only that can be a sign which signifies some- 
thing. Now, what is not cannot be something. So the second 
word in the verse is not a sign, because it does not signify some- 
thing. We were wrong, therefore, in laying it down that all 
words are signs, or that all signs must signify something. Ad. — 
You press me sore. But surely it is utterly foolish to use a word if 
we have no meaning to attach to it. When you are speaking 
with me I believe that you do not utter any merely empty 
sound, but that in everything that proceeds from your mouth 
you are giving me a sign by which I may understand something. 
So you ought not in speaking to pronounce these two syllables 
unless by them you mean something. If you see that they are 
necessary to set forth some idea and to teach and remind us of 
something when they sound in our ears, you assuredly also see 
what I wish to say but cannot clearly explain. Aug. — What then 
are we to do? Shall we say that the word, nihil y signifies a state 
of mind rather than a thing which is nothing; the state of a 
mind, I mean, which does not see an object, and discovers or 
thinks it has discovered nonentity? Ad. — Perhaps that was what 
I was trying to explain. Aug. — However it may be, let us go on 
to the next point lest something most absurd happen to us. 
Ad. — What do you mean? Aug. — If “nothing” should detain us. 



72 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

and yet we should suffer delay. Ad. — It is indeed ridiculous, and 
yet somehow I see it can happen and indeed has happened. 

4. Aug. — At the proper time we shall understand more clearly 
this kind of difficulty, if God will. Now go back to the verse and 
do your best to unfold what the other words signify. Ad. — The 
third word is the preposition ex for which I think we can sub- 
stitute de. Aug. — But I am not asking you to substitute for one 
well-known word another equally well-known word which you 
say means the same thing, if indeed it does mean the same 
thing. But let that pass meantime. If the poet had written not 
ex tanta urbe but de tanta urbe , and I asked what de signified, you 
would say ex, since these two words, that is, signs, signify, you 
think, one and the same thing. But I am looking for the one 
thing which is signified by these two signs. Ad. — I think they 
mean a separation of a thing A, from a thing, B, in which it had 
formerly existed. A is said to be “of” or “out of” B. And this in 
one or other of two ways. Either B does not remain, as in this 
verse. For Troy has been destroyed but some Trojans could still 
exist. Or B remains, as when we say that business-men of the 
City of Rome are in Africa. Aug. — I shall concede your point, 
and not seek to enumerate the many exceptions that can be 
found to your rule. But you can at least observe that you have 
been explaining words by means of words, that is, signs by 
means of signs, well-known words and signs by words and signs 
also well-known. But I want you to show me, if you can, what 
are the things of which these are the signs. 

iii, 5. Ad. — I am surprised that you do not know, or rather 
that you pretend not to know, that what you ask cannot be done 
in conversation, where we cannot answer questions except by 
means of words. You ask for things which, whatever they 
may be, are certainly not words, and yet you too use words in 
asking me. First put your questions without using words, and I 
shall reply on the same terms. Aug. — I admit your challenge is 
just. But if I were to ask what was signified when these three 
syllables, par-i-es, are pronounced couldn’t you point with your 
finger, so that I should immediately see the thing itself of which 
that trisyllabic word is the sign? You would be pointing it out 
without using any words. Ad. — I agree that is possible, but only 
in the case of names signifying corporeal objects, if these objects 
were at hand. Aug. — But surely we do not call a colour a cor- 
poreal object? Is it not rather a quality of a corporeal object? 
Ad. — It is so. Aug. — Why then can it, too, be pointed out with 
the finger? Do you include the qualities of corporeal objects 



THE TEACHER 


73 

among corporeal objects, at least so far as they can be brought 
to knowledge without words? Ad . — When I said corporeal ob- 
jects I meant all corporeal things to be understood, that is, all 
the qualities of bodies which are susceptible to sense-perception. 
Aug.- — Consider, however, whether some exceptions are to be 
made. Ad . — You do well to warn me. I should have said not all 
corporeal objects but all visible objects. For I admit that sound, 
smell, taste, weight, heat, etc., which belong to the other senses, 
though they cannot be perceived apart from bodies and are 
therefore corporeal, cannot, nevertheless, be pointed out with 
the finger. Aug . — Have you never seen how men carry on con- 
versation, as it were, with deaf people by means of gesture, and 
how deaf people, similarly by gesture, ask questions and reply, 
teach and indicate all their wishes, or at least most of them? 
Thus not only visible things are pointed out without the use of 
words, but also sounds, tastes and. other such things. Actors, too, 
in the theatres often unfold and set forth whole stories by danc- 
ing simply and without using a single word. Ad . — I have no 
adverse comment to make except that neither I nor your 
dancing actor will ever be able to point out to you what the 
preposition, ex, signifies without using words. 

6. Aug . — Perhaps you are right. But suppose he could. You 
would, I imagine, have no hesitation in saying that whatever 
movement of his body he used in trying to show me the thing 
signified by that word, it would still be a sign and not the thing 
itself. Therefore, though he indeed would not explain a word 
by a word, he would, none the less, explain a sign by a sign. So 
that both the monosyllable, ex, and his gesture would signify 
one thing, which I was asking to have pointed out to me without 
a sign, directly. Ad. — Pray, how can that possibly be done? 
Aug . — The way a wall does it. Ad . — But even a wall, as our 
reasoning showed, cannot be shown without a pointing finger. 
The holding out of the finger is not the wall but the sign by 
means of which the wall is pointed out. So far as I can see there 
is nothing which can be shown without signs. Aug . — Suppose I 
were to ask you what walking is, and you were to get up and do 
it, wouldn’t you be using the thing itself to show me, not words 
or any other signs? Ad. — Yes, of course. I am ashamed that I 
did not notice so obvious a fact. Now thousands of examples 
come to my mind of things which can be demonstrated im- 
mediately and without signs, such as eating, drinking, sitting, 
standing, shouting and other things innumerable. Aug . — Well 
then, tell me this. Supposing I had no idea of the meaning of 



74 Augustine: earlier writings 

the word “walking,” and I were to ask you when you were 
walking what “walking” means, how would you teach me? 
Ad . — I should walk a little more quickly. The change in speed 
would give notice that I was replying to your question, and I 
should still be doing what I was asked to demonstrate. Aug . — 
But you know there is a difference between walking and 
hastening. He who walks does not suddenly hasten, and he who 
hastens does not necessarily walk. We speak of hastening in 
writing, reading and very many other things. Consequently, if, 
after my query, you did what you had been doing, only a little 
more quickly, I should conclude that walking was the same 
thing as hastening, for the acceleration was the new feature of 
your behaviour. So I should be misled. Ad . — I admit that a 
thing cannot be demonstrated without a sign, at any rate if the 
thing is an action in which we are engaged when we are ques- 
tioned. If we add nothing new to what we are doing, our ques- 
tioner will think that we don’t want to show him, but are con- 
tinuing in what we were doing without paying any attention to 
him. But if his inquiry is about actions which we can perform, 
and if we are not doing them when he inquires, by doing it 
after he has inquired we can demonstrate what he asks by the 
actual thing and not merely by a sign. A special case would 
arise if, while I was speaking, someone asked me what “speaking” 
was. In order to let him know I must speak, whatever I actually 
may say. And I shall continue to show him until I make plain 
to him what he wants to know, not departing from the actual 
thing which he wished to have demonstrated to him, and 
yet not seeking signs apart from the thing itself wherewith to 
demonstrate it. 

iv, 7. Aug . — Most acutely stated. Are we, now, agreed that 
there are two classes of things that can be demonstrated without 
signs; those which we are not engaged in doing when we are 
asked and can immediately start doing, and those in which the 
action consists in simply giving signs? For when we speak we 
make signs, whence is derived the verb, to signify . Ad. — Agreed. 
Aug . — When the question concerns signs merely, signs can be 
demonstrated by signs. But when the question is about things 
which are not signs, they can be demonstrated by carrying out 
the action, if possible, after the question has been asked, or by 
giving signs by means of which the things can be brought to 
mind. Ad . — That is so. Aug. — Here, then, we have a threefold 
classification. Let us first consider, if you please, the case of 
signs being demonstrated by signs. Words are not the only 



THE TEACHER 


75 

signs? Ad . — No. Aug. — It seems to me that in speaking we use 
words to signify words or other signs, as when we say “gesture” 
or “letter”; for these two words also signify signs. Or we may 
express in words something which is not a sign, as for example 
when we say the word “stone.” The word is a sign for it sig- 
nifies something, but what it signifies is not a sign. But this 
kind of case where words signify things that are not signs does 
not concern our present discussion. For we undertook to con- 
sider those cases where signs are demonstrated by signs, and we 
found that they fall into two classes; those in which we teach 
or call to remembrance by signs similar signs, and those in 
which we teach or call to remembrance different signs. Do you 
agree? Ad. — Clearly. 

8. Aug. — Tell me, to what sense do verbal signs pertain? Ad . — 
To the sense of hearing. Aug. — And gesture? Ad. — To sight. 
Aug. — What about written words? Surely they are words? Or 
are they better understood as signs of words? A word is a 
meaningful articulate sound, and sound is perceived by no 
other sense than hearing. When a word is written, a sign is 
given to the eyes whereby something that properly belongs 
to the ears is brought to mind. Ad. — I agree entirely. Aug . — 
You will also agree, I imagine, that when we pronounce the 
word, nomen [name], we signify something. Ad. — True. Aug. — 
What, then? Ad. — That by which something or somebody is 
called; for example, Romulus, Rome, Virtue, a River, etc., 
etc. Aug. — These four names signify something. Ad. — Indeed 
they do. Aug.— Is there a difference between these names and 
the things they signify? Ad. — A great difference. Aug. — I should 
like you to tell me what is the difference. Ad. — In the first 
place, the names are signs; the things are not. Aug. — Shall we 
call things which can be signified by signs but are not signs 
“significables,” as we call things that can be seen visible? It 
will simplify our discussion of them. Ad. — Very well. Aug. — Can 
these four signs you have just mentioned be signified by no 
other sign? Ad. — I am surprised that you should think I have 
already forgotten that we found that written words are signs of 
spoken words, signs, therefore, of signs. Aug. — What is the dif- 
ference? Ad.— Written words are visible. Spoken words are 
audible. Why should we not use the word, audible, if we allow 
“significable”? Aug. — I allow it at once, and am grateful for 
your suggestion. But I ask again whether these four signs cannot 
be signified by any other audible sign as well as by the visible 
signs you have called to mind. Ad.—l recall that this too was 



AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


said recently in our discussion. I said that a name signified some 
thing and I gave these four examples. I recognize that the word 
“name” and these four names are all audible when spoken. 
Aug. — What, then, is the difference between an audible sign and 
other audible signs signified by it? Ad. — So far as I can see the 
difference between the word “name 55 and the four examples is 
this; it is the audible sign of audible signs; they are the audible 
signs not of signs but of things, partly visible, like Romulus, 
Rome, River, partly intelligible, like Virtue. 

9. Aug. — I understand and approve. But you know that every 
articulate sound pronounced with some meaning is called a 
word. Ad. — I do. Aug. — A name, therefore, is a word when it is 
pronounced articulately with a meaning. When we say of a 
fluent man that he uses good words, we mean also that he uses 
names. When the slave in Terence said to his aged master, 
“Good words, I pray you,” he used many names. Ad. — I agree. 
Aug . — So when we pronounce these two syllables, ver-bum , we 
also signify a name, and the one word is the sign of the other. 
Ad. — I agree. Aug. — Here is another question I should like you 
to answer. You have said that “word” is a sign pointing to 
“name,” and “name” is a sign pointing to “river,” and “river” 
is the sign of a thing which can be seen. Also you have explained 
the difference between this “thing” and “river,” which is its 
sign, and between “river” and “name,” which is the sign of a 
sign. What do you think is the difference between the sign of a 
name, that is a word, and the name itself of which it is the sign? 
Ad. — I understand the difference to be this. What is signified by 
“name” is also signified by “word.” A name is a word, and 
“river” is a word. But everything that has a verbal sign does not 
have a nominal sign. For si at the beginning of the verse you 
quoted, and ex, where this long course of reasoning started, are 
words but they are not names. And there are many other such 
words. All names are words, but all words are not names. So the 
difference between a word and a name is, I think, clear, that is, 
between the sign of a sign which signifies no other signs, and the 
sign of a sign that points to other signs. Aug. — Every horse is an 
animal, but every animal is not a horse? Ad. — Indubitably. 
Aug. — There is the same difference between “name” and 
“word” as between horse and animal. Unless perhaps you are 
prevented from assenting by the fact that we use the word 
“verb” in a special sense to signify those things which have 
tenses — I write, I wrote; I read, I have read. Clearly these are 
not names. Ad. — You have mentioned exactly what caused me 



THE TEACHER 


77 

to hesitate. Aug . — Don’t let that trouble you. In all cases where 
words are employed and something is signified we speak of 
signs universally and without qualification. On the other hand, 
we speak of military signs which are properly called signs be- 
cause words are not used. If I were to say to you that just as 
every horse is an animal but every animal is not a horse, so 
every word is a sign but every sign is not a word, you would not 
hesitate, I believe. Ad . — Now I understand and agree that 
there is the same difference between a word, universally, and a 
name as between animal and horse. 

io. Aug. — You know that when we say “animal,” that tri- 
syllabic name pronounced by the voice is a different thing from 
that which it signifies? Ad. — We have admitted that is true for 
all signs and “significables.” Aug. — Do you think that all signs 
signify something different from themselves, just as the three 
syllables of the word animal cannot signify the word itself. 
Ad.— Not altogether. For when we say the word “sign” it sig- 
nifies not only all other signs but also itself. For it is a word, and 
all words are signs. Aug. — Does not the same thing happen 
when we say the word verbum? If that word signifies every 
meaningful articulate sound, it is itself included in that cate- 
gory. Ad. — It is. Aug. — Isn’t it the same with the word “name”? 
It signifies names of all categories, and is itself the name of no 
category. If I were to ask you what part of speech is a name, 
could you answer correctly except by saying it is a noun? Ad . — 
No, indeed. Aug. — There are therefore signs which signify 
themselves as well as other signs. Ad.— There are. Aug. — Do you 
think that the same is true with the quadrisyllable sign “con- 
junction” when spoken? Ad. — By no means. It is a name, but 
the things it signifies are not names. 

v, ii. Aug. — You have been most attentive. Now consider 
whether there are signs which signify each other mutually, the 
one being signified by the other. This is not the case with the 
word “conjunction” and the words signified by it, such as, if, 
or, for, unless, therefore, since, and the like. All these are sig- 
nified by that one word, but by none of them is that word 
signified. Ad. — I see. And I should like to learn what signs sig- 
nify one another mutually. Aug. — When we say “name” and 
“word” we use two words. Ad. — Yes. Aug. — And when we use 
these two words we at the same time use two names. Ad. — Yes. 
Aug. — So that “name” signifies “word” just as “word” sig- 
nifies “name.” Ad. — I agree. Aug.- — Can you say how they differ 
except that they sound differently and are spelt differently? 



AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 



Ad. — Perhaps I can, remembering what I said a little while ago. 
By* ‘words” we mean everything articulately spoken and with 
some meaning. So every name, including the word “name,” is 
a word; but every word is not a name, though the word “word” 
is itself a name. 

12. Aug. — If someone were to affirm and prove that, just as 
every name is a word, so every word is a name, could you point 
out the difference except in sound and spelling? Ad. — I could 
not. And I do not think there is a difference. Aug. — If all arti- 
culate and meaningful sounds are both words and names, but 
for one reason they are called words and for another names, 
will there be no difference? Ad. — I don’t understand how that 
could be. Aug. — You understand at any rate that every coloured 
thing is visible, and that every visible thing is coloured, though 
these two words have quite different meanings. Ad. — I do. 
Aug. — What if similarly every word is a name and every name 
a word, though these two words, viz., “name” and “word,” have 
different meanings? Ad. — I now see it might be so, but I wait 
for you to show me how. Aug. — You are aware, I suppose, that 
every articulate significant sound smites the ear in order that it 
may be perceived, remembered and known? Ad. — I am aware 
of that. Aug. — Therefore, whenever we speak, two things hap- 
pen. Ad. — That is so. Aug. — What if words are so called from 
one of these two things, and names from the other? That is to 
say, if verbum derives from verberare , nomen from noscere , the 
former would receive its due appellation from something that 
happens to the ear, the latter from something that happens in 
the mind. 


13. Ad . — I shall agree when you show me how we can cor- 
rectly say that all words are names. Aug . — That is easy. I sup- 
pose you once learned and still remember that a pronoun is so- 
called because it can stand for a noun (name), though it char- 
acterizes its object less fully than the noun it has replaced. I 
believe this is the definition which you used to repeat to your 
grammar teacher: A pronoun is a part of speech which, when 
put in place of a noun, designates the same object but less fully. 
Ad . — I remember and I approve. Aug . — You see, then, that, 
according to this definition, pronouns can serve only in place 
of nouns, and can be put only in the place of nouns. For ex- 
ample, we say, “this man,” “the king himself,” “the same 
woman,” “this gold,” “that silver.” “This,” “that,” “himself,” 
the same” are pronouns. “Man,” “king,” “woman,” “gold,” 
silver” are nouns, by means of which the things are more fully 


£ £ 


£ £ 



THE TEACHER 


79 

described than by the pronouns. Ad. — I see and agree. Aug . — 
Now name a few conjunctions, whichever you like. Ad. — “And, 59 
“but, 55 “also. 55 Aug. — Don’t you think that all these you have 
mentioned are names (nouns)? Ad. — Not at all. Aug. — Do you 
think that I have used correct language in saying “all these you 
have mentioned 55 ? Ad. — Quite correct. And now I understand 
that you have been showing me in a wonderful way that these 
were nouns which I mentioned, for otherwise it would not be 
correct to refer to them as “these. 55 But I have still a suspicion 
that I judged your language to be correct because these con- 
junctions are undeniably words. Therefore we can correctly 
refer to them as “all these, 55 viz., “all these words. 55 If you ask 
me what part of speech is “words 55 I can only answer £C a noun. 55 
So that your expression was correct perhaps because the pro- 
noun was implicitly attached to this noun. 

14. Aug. — An acute observation. But you are wrong. To cor- 
rect your error listen attentively to what I say, if I can manage 
to express myself as I wish. To use words to treat of words is as 
complicated as to rub fingers together and expect someone else 
to distinguish which fingers tingle with warmth and which help 
others to tingle. Ad. — I give you all my attention, for your 
similitude has aroused my interest. Aug.— Words are a com- 
pound of sound and letters. Ad. — That is right. Aug. — Let us 
use a citation from an authority, dearest of all to us. When the 
Apostle Paul says: “In Christ there was not Yea [ est ] and Nay, 
but in him was Yea [est]” we are not to think, I suppose, that 
these three letters, e-s-t, were in Christ, but rather that which 
is signified by them. Ad. — Quite true. Aug. — When he says: “In 
him was Est” he is to be understood as meaning, “In him was 
what we call Est [being]. 55 If he had said: “In him was virtue, 55 
he would have to be understood to mean: “In him was what we 
call virtue. 55 We should not have to think that these two 
syllables which we use when we speak of virtue were in him, but 
rather that the quality denoted by the word “virtue 55 was in him. 
Ad. — I follow you. Aug. — You understand that there is no dif- 
ference between “is called virtue 55 and “is named virtue 55 ? 
Ad. — That is clear. Aug. — It is equally clear that there is no 
difference between, “in him was what is called Est” and, “in 
him was what is named Est.” Ad. — I see there is no difference. 
Aug. — Do you see now what I am trying to point out to you? 
Ad. — Not quite. Aug. — You see that a name is that by which a 
thing is named. Ad. — Nothing is clearer. Aug. — Then you see 
that Est is a name [noun] if that which was in him is named Est 



8o 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


[being]. Ad . — Undeniably. Aug . — But if I were to ask you what 
part of speech is Est, you would, I suppose, say it was not a 
noun but a verb, though our reasoning has taught us that it is 
also a noun. Ad . — It is just as you say. Aug . — Do you still 
hesitate to regard as names the other parts of speech — names 
in the sense we have demonstrated? Ad. — I do not hesitate, now 
that I have to confess that they may be signs of something. But 
if you ask what the specific things signified are called or named, 
I cannot answer. I can refer only to those parts of speech which 
we do not usually call names, but which I see we are now con- 
strained so to call. 

15. Aug. — Are you not disturbed by the possibility that there 
may be someone who would weaken our argument by saying 
that we must attribute to the Apostle authority in the matter of 
realities but not in the use of words? The ground of our argu- 
ment would not be so sure as we had assumed. It is possible 
that, though Paul lived and taught with absolute rectitude, his 
language was less correct when he wrote: “In him was Est” 
especially when he himself confesses that he was unskilled in 
speech. How do you think we ought to refute such a man? 
Ad. — I have nothing to urge against him. I pray you, find 
someone among the acknowledged masters of words by whose 
authority you can effect what you desire. Aug. — You think that 
without authorities reason itself is hardly sufficient. But reason 
itself demonstrates that all the parts of speech may signify some 
thing, that consequently they may be names or nouns. This can 
be most easily seen by comparing different languages. Obviously 
if you ask what is the Greek name for our quis, the answer is tis ; 
for volo , thelo', for bene , kalds ; for scrip turn, to gegrammenon; for et , 
kai\ for ab , apo\ for heu , oi. The question can thus be correctly 
asked about all the parts of speech as I have enumerated them. 
This could not be done unless they were names. When we can 
by this process of reasoning, apart from the authority of all the 
eloquent men, prove that the Apostle Paul spoke correctly, 
what need is there to seek anyone to buttress our argument with 
his personal authority? 

16. But possibly some man, from greater stupidity or im- 
pudence, may not agree, but on the contrary may assert that he 
will give way only to those authorities who with universal con- 
sent are allowed to lay down the law in regard to words. What in 
the Latin tongue can be found more excellent than Cicero? 
And yet he, in his noblest orations, called the Verrine orations, 
calls coram a noun. Now coram is a preposition, or possibly an 



THE TEACHER 


8l 


adverb in that particular passage. It may be that I do not cor- 
rectly understand the passage, and others may explain it dif- 
ferently. But there is one point to which I think there is no 
possible answer. The best masters of dialectic tell us that a com- 
plete sentence, whether affirmative or negative (what Tullius 
somewhere also calls a pronouncement), consists of a noun and 
a verb; and when the verb is in the third person, the noun, they 
say, and rightly, must be in the nominative case. Now con- 
sider this point. When we say “the man sits” and “the horse 
runs” you observe there are two pronouncements. Ad . — I do. 
Aug . — In each of them there is one noun, in the one case, 
“man,” in the other, “horse.” There is likewise one verb, “sits” 
in the one case, “runs” in the other. Ad . — So I observe. Aug. If 
I said simply “sits” or “runs,” you would very properly ask me 
“who or what?” I should have to reply, “the man,” “the horse,” 
“the animal” or some other noun which, when added to the 
verb, completes the pronouncement or affirmative or negative 
sentence. Ad .— I understand. Aug . — Now listen. Suppose we 
see some object rather far away and are uncertain whether it is 
an animal or a stone or something else. Suppose I say to you: 
“Because it is a man it is an animal.” Shouldn’t I be speaking 
rashly? Ad . — You would indeed, but not if you said: “If it is a 
man it is an animal.” Aug . — You are right. So in your sentence 
“if” satisfies us both, and in mine “because” is felt to be wrong. 
Ad .’ — I agree. Aug . — Now are these two pronouncements com- 
plete sentences: “‘if’ satisfies,” and, “‘because’ is wrong”? 
Ad.- — Yes. They are complete. Aug . — Now tell me which are 
the verbs and which the nouns. Ad . — The verbs are “satisfies” 
and “is wrong”; and the nouns must be “if” and “because.” 
Aug . — It is therefore sufficiently proved that these two conjunc- 
tions can also be nouns. Ad . — Quite sufficiently. Aug . — Can you 
by yourself prove that the other parts of speech can be brought 
under the same rule? Ad . — I can. 

vi, 17. Aug . — Let us, then, pass on. Tell me whether you 
think that, just as we have found that all words are names and 
all names are words, so all names are substantives and all sub- 
stantives are names. Ad . — I see no difference between them ex- 


cept their sounds. Aug . — I make no objection provisionally. 
There are some who see a distinction between them in meaning 
too, but we need not consider their opinion just now. But at 
least you observe that we have reached signs which signify one 
another mutually, differing in nothing but sound, and which 
signify themselves together with all the other parts of speech. 

A.E.W. — 6 



82 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


Ad. — I don’t understand. Aug. — Don’t you understand that 
“substantive” signifies “name” and “name” “substantive,” 
and that there is no difference between them except in sound, 
so far as concerns the general concept, “name.” For of course 
we use the concept, “name” (or noun), in a special sense, when 
we use it to denote one of the eight parts of speech over against 
the other seven. Ad. — That I understand. Aug. — That is what 
I meant when I said that substantive and name signify one 
another mutually. 

1 8. Ad. — I understand that, but I wonder what you meant by 
saying they signify themselves together with the other parts of 
speech. Aug. — Didn’t our previous argument teach us that all 
parts of speech can be used as names and substantives, that is, 
may be signified by the signs, “name” and “substantive”? 
Ad. — That is so. Aug. — If I ask you the meaning of no-men — I 
mean that disyllabic sound — wouldn’t you correctly reply 
nomerit Ad. — Yes. Aug. — But it is not surely the same with the 
sign we give when we pronounce the four syllables, con-junc-ti-o? 
This name cannot be enumerated among the conjunctions 
which it signifies. Ad. — That I accept as right. Aug. — So you 
see what I meant by saying, a name which signifies itself and 
all the other things it signifies. You can work this out for your- 
self if you like in the case of the word, “substantive.” Ad. — Easily 
enough. But it occurs to me that “name” is used in both a 
general and a special sense. “Substantive” is not accepted 
among the eight parts of speech. So there must be a difference 
in meaning besides the difference in sound. Aug. — What dif- 
ference is there between nomen and onoma except a difference of 
sound, the difference between the Latin and the Greek lan- 
guages? Ad. — In this case I see no difference save one of sound. 
Aug. — So we have discovered signs which signify themselves, 
and one another mutually. Whatever is signified by the one is 
also signified by the other, and they differ only in sound. We 
have just found out this fourth characteristic. The three former 
ones we learned in connection with names and words. Ad. — Yes. 
That is what we have discovered. 

vii, 19. Aug. — I should like you to recall what we have 
learned as a result of our conversation. Ad. — I shall do the best 


I can. To begin with I recall that we spent some time in inquir- 
ing why we use speech, and we saw that we did so in order to 
teach or to call to mind. Even when we ask questions our motive 
is simply to let the person questioned know what we want to 
hear. We seem to sing for the pleasure it gives us, but the 



THE TEACHER 


83 

pleasure derives from the melody and not properly from the 
words sung. In prayer, we cannot hold that God needs to be 
taught or reminded, so that when we use words we do so to re- 
mind ourselves or to admonish and teach others. Then we 
decided that words were simply signs. Things which do not 
signify something beyond themselves cannot be signs. Then you 
quoted the verse, 

Si nihil ex tanta superis placet urbe relinqui 

and I tried to show what each word signified. We could not 
discover what the second word signifies though it is a well- 
known obvious word. I thought it was not an empty word but 
did express something, perhaps the state of mind of one who 
discovers that the object of his search does not exist, or at least 
thinks he has made that discovery. You made some reply, 
jestingly avoiding the profundity of the question, and putting it 
off for another time. Don’t think I have forgotten the explana- 
tion you owe me. Then I tried to explain the third word in the 
verse and you urged me not to explain it by means of a 
synonym, but to show the reality which the word signified. I 
said it was impossible to do this in conversation, so we came to 
things which can be pointed out with the finger. I thought all 
corporeal objects were of this kind, but we found that only vis- 
ible things were. Then somehow we spoke of deaf people and 
actors who without words and by gestures alone signify not only 
visible things but much else besides, indeed nearly everything 
we speak about. And we decided that these gestures also were 
signs. Then we began again to inquire how we could without 
signs point out actual things, since a wall, a colour, all visible 
things are indicated by pointing with the finger, which is it- 
self a sign. When I wrongly said that nothing could be found 
which could be shown without a sign, we agreed that it was 
possible in the case of actions, provided we were not performing 
them when we were questioned, if we could perform them when 
questioned. But speaking was not among such actions for even 
if we were asked while we were speaking what speaking is, it 
would clearly be easy to demonstrate the action by performing 
the action itself. 

20. Hence we learned that signs are demonstrated by signs, 
also other things which are not signs. Likewise, without a sign, 
actions can be demonstrated which we can perform on being 
questioned. Of these three statements we undertook to con- 
sider diligently and to discuss the first. The discussion showed 



84 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

that, on the one hand, there are signs which cannot be signified 
by the signs they themselves signify, for example the word 
“conjunction.” On the other hand some can. For example, the 
word “sign” signifies a word, and the word “word” signifies a 
sign; so that “sign” and “word” are both signs and words. In 
the class of signs which are mutually significant it was shown 
that there are degrees of correspondence. The sound, sig-num , 
signifies everything by which anything is signified, but ver-bum 
is not a sign of all signs, but only of those which are articulately 
pronounced. Hence it is manifest that while sig-num signifies 
ver-bum and vice-versa, signum applies more widely than verbum . 
But in a general sense verbum and nomen have the same range of 
application. Our argument showed us that all the parts of 
speech can be names, because pronouns can be substituted for 
or added to them. Of all of them it can be said that they “name” 
something, and there is none of them which cannot be made the 
subject of a verb to form a complete sentence. But though 
“name” and “word” have the same range of applicability, 
since all words are names, yet they are not identical in meaning. 
We gave a probable reason for the distinction between “word” 
and “name,” viz., verbum is derived from verberare , to strike the 
ear, nomen from the mental process of reminding. When we want 
to memorize something we rightly say, “What is its name?” 
but we do not usually say, “What is its word?” Of absolute 
synonyms, differing in nothing save in sound and spelling, the 
only example we found was nomen and onoma , a Latin word and 
its Greek equivalent. In the class of mutually significant signs, 
it escaped me that we had found no sign which does not signify 
itself among the other signs it signifies. There! I have recalled 
as much as I am able. I am sure that in our conversation you 
have said nothing without conscious design, and you will know 
whether I have summarized our talk properly and in order. 

viii, 21. Aug . — You have indeed repeated from memory all 
I wanted; and I must confess these distinctions now seem to me 
to be much clearer than they did when our discussion forced 
them out from obscurity. But it is hard to say at this point what 
goal we are striving to reach by all these round-about paths. 
Probably you think we have just been playing a game and 
diverting the mind from serious things by these apparently 
puerile questionings, or, perhaps, that a very small gain has 
been made, if any. Or, if you suspect that some great advantage 
is to arise from our debate, you want to know it now or, at all 
events, to be told what it is. I want you to believe that I have 



THE TEACHER 


85 

not been trifling in this conversation, though perhaps we have 
been amusing ourselves. But the game is not to be regarded as 
merely puerile, nor is it to be thought that only small or 
moderate advantages have been gained. And yet, if I say that 
there is a life eternally blessed, and that my desire is that God, 
who is very truth, should bring us thither by steps suited to our 
poor abilities, I am afraid I shall appear ridiculous, because I 
set out on so long a journey with the consideration of signs and 
not of the realities they signify. You will pardon me, therefore, 
if I play with you to begin with, not for the sake of playing, 
but in order to exercise and sharpen our mental powers so that 
we may be able not merely to endure the heat and light of the 
region where lies the blessed life, but also to love them. Ad . — 
Go on as you have begun, for I shall never think unworthy of 
attention anything you may think it necessary to say or to do. 

22. Aug. — Let us then consider the other side of the problem, 
where signs signify not other signs but what we have agreed to 
call “significables.” And first tell me whether man is man. 
Ad. — Now I am not sure whether you are joking. Aug.- — Why? 
Ad. — Because you think it necessary to ask me that question. 
Aug. — I dare say you would also suppose I was joking if I were 
to ask you whether the first syllable of that noun is ho and 
the second mo. Ad. — I certainly should. Aug. — But these two 
syllables together make homo. Do you agree? Ad. — Who could 
deny it? Aug. — Now I ask; do these two syllables together make 
you? Ad. — Of course not. But now I see your point. Aug. — You 
state it, then, so that I may not seem to be abusive. Ad. — You 
think the conclusion is that I am not a man. Aug. — Don’t you 
agree, seeing you have agreed that all the premises are true 
from which this conclusion is reached? Ad.— I shall not tell you 
what I think until you tell me whether, in asking whether man 
is man, you meant these two syllables homo > or the thing they 
signify. Aug. — You tell me, rather, in what sense you under- 
stood my question. For if it is ambiguous you should have been 
careful and should not have replied until you were quite sure 
of the meaning of the question. Ad. — The ambiguity would not 
prevent me from answering that “homo” is “homo” in both 
senses. For these two syllables are nothing but these two 
syllables; and what they signify is exactly what is signified by 
them. Aug. — All right. But why don’t you understand in two 
senses not only the word “homo” but all the other words we 
have used? Ad. — Have I not done so? Aug.— Take my first 
question. If you had understood it to be nothing but a series of 



86 Augustine: earlier writings 

syllables, you would have made no answer for I should appar- 
ently have asked no question. When I asked, utrum homo homo sit, 
I used three words, repeating one of them twice. It is clear that 
you took the first and last words not as mere syllables but as 
significant words, and so you thought you could reply with cer- 
tainty and confidence. Ad. — That is true. Aug. — Why did you 
wish to take the middle word only in two senses, according to 
its sound and according to its sense? Ad. — Now I take the whole 
sentence according to the sense of the words. I agree with you 
that we cannot carry on a conversation at all unless the words 
we hear carry the mind to the things of which they are the 
signs. Show me, now, the fallacy of the reasoning which proved 
that I am not a man. Aug. — I shall put the questions again so 
that you may yourself detect your mistake. Ad. — That is better. 

23. Aug. — I shall not repeat the first question, for that has 
been agreed. But now think. The syllable ho is ho, and mo is mo. 
Ad. — Obviously. Aug. — Together they form homo. Ad. — There I 
went wrong. I thought, rightly, that when a sign is given one 
should look to what it signified, and, with that in view, should 
answer yes or no. But I allowed significance to separate syllables 
when of course they have none. Aug. — You are quite certain, 
then, that no answer should be given to questions except in 
terms of the things signified by the words. Ad. — Why not, if 
words are used? Aug.— I should like to hear how you would 
reply to the man in the amusing story who drew the conclusion 
that a lion had come out of the mouth of his fellow-disputant. 
He first asked whether what we say comes out of our mouth. 
That was, of course, undeniable. Then he had no difficulty in 
getting the other, in the course of the discussion, to mention a 
lion. Whereupon he made fun of him, and insisted that, since 
he had confessed that what we say comes out of our mouth, and 
since he could not deny that he had said 4 ‘lion, 5 5 therefore with 
the best intentions he had let out a horrid beast from his 
mouth. Ad. — It would not be difficult to answer that clever 
jester. I should not concede that whatever we say comes out of 
our mouth. For our words are signs merely of things. It is the 
sign and not the thing signified which comes out of the mouth 
of the speaker. In some cases it may be simply the sign of an- 
other sign, as we have said earlier in our discussion. 

24. Aug. — I see you are well armed against that adversary. 
But if I ask whether homo is a noun, what answer will you give 
me? Ad. — What else could it be? Aug. — When I see you, do I 
see a noun? Ad. — No. Aug. — Shall I point out what follows from 



THE TEACHER 


87 

your reply? Ad. — Please don’t. I see for myself that it must be 
that I am not a man because, when you asked whether homo 
was a noun I replied that it was, though I had decided to look 
to the significance of words in giving an affirmative or a nega- 
tive answer. Aug. — Still I think there was some advantage 
gained by your slipping into that reply. The very law of reason 
stamped on our minds has awakened your vigilance. If I were 
to ask simply what is homo , you would probably reply, an 
animal. But if I were to ask what part of speech is homo , the only 
correct answer is, a noun. So homo is both a noun and an animal. 
It is a noun when it is regarded as a sign, and an animal when 
regard is had to the thing signified by the sign. If anyone asks 
me whether homo is a noun I shall reply that it is, for the form 
of the question indicates sufficiently in what sense the word is 
to be taken — the sense in which it is a sign. If he asks whether 
homo is an animal I shall assent even more readily. But if he 
asks simply what homo is without mentioning either noun or 
animal, my mind, following the rule laid down for our dis- 
course, would at once turn to the thing signified by these two 
syllables, and would give no other answer but “animal, 55 unless 
it gave the whole definition, which is “a rational and mortal 
animal,, 55 Don’t you think so? Ad. — I do. But if we have ad- 
mitted that homo is a noun how shall we avoid the insulting 
conclusion that we are not men? Aug. — How else than by ex- 
plaining that the conclusion is inferred by importing into the 
word a different sense from that which we had understood in 
giving our assent. And if he says that was the sense he intended, 
the conclusion is not to be feared in any way; for why should I 
fear to confess that I am not a man ( kominem ), that is, I am not 
these three syllables? Ad. — Very true. Why indeed should one 
be offended when one is said not to be a man in that sense? 
According to our argument nothing could be more true. Aug . — 
The rule, which naturally carries the greatest weight, is that, as 
soon as signs are heard, the attention is directed to the things 
they signify. So, when the rule is stated, it becomes impossible 
not to suppose that the conclusion refers to what is signified by 
the two syllables, ho-mo. Ad. — I understand and agree with 
what you say. 

ix, 25. Aug. — I want you now to understand that things 
signified are of greater importance than their signs. Whatever 
exists on account of something else must necessarily be of less 
value than that on account of which it exists. Do you agree? 
Ad.- — It seems to me we must not rashly agree to that statement. 



88 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


The word caenum (filth) for example is, I think, far preferable 
to the thing it signifies. What offends us when it is mentioned 
has nothing to do with the sound of the word. Change one 
letter and caenum becomes caelum (heaven), but what a dif- 
ference there is between the things signified by these two words ! 
I should not, therefore, attribute to the sign the quality I loathe 
in the thing signified. We prefer to hear the word to being 
brought into contact with the thing with our other senses. 
Accordingly I prefer the sign to the thing signified. Aug . — You 
are most observant. It is false, therefore, that things universally 
are to be preferred to their signs. Ad . — So it seems. Aug . — Tell 
me, then, what you think people wanted to achieve when they 
bestowed that name on an object so nasty and revolting. Do you 
approve of what they did or not? Ad . — I do not venture to 
approve or to disapprove, nor do I know what they were trying 
to do. Aug . — But you can know what you intend to do when 
you mention the word? Ad. — Certainly. I want to give a sign to 
the man with whom I am speaking, by means of which I may let 
him know what I think he ought to know. Aug . — The knowledge, 
then, conveyed by this word from you to him or from him to 
you, is more valuable than the word itself? Ad . — I agree that the 
knowledge conveyed by the sign is more important than the 
sign itself. But this does not mean that the thing signified is 
better than its sign. 

26. Aug. — Therefore, though it is false that things universally 
are to be preferred to their signs, it is nevertheless true that 
whatever exists on account of something else is inferior to that 
on account of which it exists. Knowledge of filth, for example, 
to convey which knowledge the name was invented, is more im- 
portant than the name, while the name is also to be preferred 
to the thing it designates, as we have discovered. The knowledge 
is superior to the sign simply because it is the end towards 
which the latter is the means. If some gluttonous man, a wor- 
shipper of his belly, as the Apostle says, were to say that he lived 
to eat, a temperate man, hearing him, and unable to bear with 
him, might say: “How much better it would be if you ate to 
live.” This judgment would proceed from the same rule. What 
displeased him would be that the other valued his life so little 
that he thought less of it than of the pleasures of gluttony, saying 
that he lived for banqueting. The advice to eat in order to live 
rather than to live in order to eat, is justly praised simply be- 
cause it shows understanding of what is means and what is end, 
that is to say, of what should be subordinate to what. Similarly 



THE TEACHER 


89 

you or another man of discernment, hearing some loquacious 
lover of verbiage say: “ I teach for the sake of talking,” would 
reply: “My man, why don’t you rather talk for the sake of 
teaching.” Now if this is right, as you know it is, you see at once 
how much less value we are to attribute to words than to the 
things on account of which we use words. The use to which 
words are put is superior to the words; for words exist to be 
used, and used to teach. Just as it is better to teach than to talk, 
so speech is better than words. And knowledge is much better 
than words. I want to hear if you have any objection to offer. 

27. Ad , — I agree that knowledge is better than words. But I 
am not sure that no objection can be urged against the general 
rule that everything which is means to an end is inferior to the 
end it serves. Aug . — We shall have a better opportunity at an- 
other time to discuss that problem more carefully. Meantime 
what you have admitted is sufficient for what I am desirous of 
establishing now. You grant that the knowledge of things is 
better than the signs of things. So knowledge of the things sig- 
nified by signs is preferable to knowledge of their signs. Is it 
not? Ad , — Surely I have not granted that the knowledge of 
things is superior to the knowledge of signs, but not superior to 
the signs themselves. I am afraid to give my assent to what you 
have said. If the word filth is better than the thing it signifies, 
knowledge of the word would be preferable to knowledge of the 
thing. And yet the name itself is inferior to the knowledge. 
There are four terms here: the name, the thing, knowledge of 
the name, knowledge of the thing. Why is not the third better 
than the fourth, just as the first is better than the second? And 
yet surely it is not to be subordinated? 

28. Aug , — I see you have a wonderful memory for retaining 
your admissions and an excellent way of expounding your 
views. But take the word “vice” ( vitium ). When we pronounce 
the word vi-ti-um you know that it is better than the thing it 
signifies. And yet mere knowledge of the word is much inferior 
to knowledge of the vices. Let us consider your four terms: the 
name, the thing, knowledge of the name, knowledge of the 
thing. We rightly prefer the first to the second. When Persius 
used the name in his poem — “This man is stupefied by vice” — 
he committed no fault of versification, indeed he added an 
ornament. And yet the thing signified by the word makes the 
man in whom it is found necessarily vicious. But there is not the 
same relation between your third and fourth terms. The fourth 
is obviously better than the third. Knowledge of the word vice 



90 Augustine: earlier writings 

is inferior to knowledge of the vices. Ad . — Do you think that 
knowledge is preferable even when it makes us more miserable? 
For above all the penalties thought of by the cruelty of tyrants 
or calculated by their greed, Persius sets this one penalty which 
tortures men who are compelled to acknowledge vices which 
they cannot avoid. Aug . — In the same way you could deny that 
knowledge of the virtues is preferable to knowledge of the word 
“virtue, 55 for to see and not to possess virtue was the punishment 
which the satirist wished tyrants to suffer. Ad . — May God avert 
such madness! Now I understand that the knowledge imparted 
to the mind by a good education is not to be blamed, but those 
are to be judged most miserable of all who are affected by a 
disease which no medicine can cure. This, I think, was Persius 5 
view too. Aug . — Quite right. But it does not matter to us what 
Persius thought. In such matters we are not subject to the 
authority of such as he. It is not easy to explain how one kind 
of knowledge is preferable to another. It is enough for my pre- 
sent purpose that we agree that knowledge of things signified 
is better than the signs even if not better than knowledge of the 
signs. Now let us discuss the greater problem. What kind of 
things, as we said, can be pointed out by themselves without 
signs such as speaking, walking, lying, and suchlike? Ad . — I 
remember the problem. 

x, 29. Aug . — Do you think that all actions which we can 
perform on being interrogated can be demonstrated without a 
sign? Or is there any exception? Ad . — Considering this whole 
class of things I find none which can be shown without a sign, 
except perhaps speaking or possibly teaching. For whatever 
I do by way of demonstration when someone has asked a ques- 
tion, I see that he cannot learn immediately from the action 
which he wants to have demonstrated to him. Even if I am 
doing nothing, or am doing something else, when I am asked 
what walking is, and if I immediately set about walking, and 
try to give an answer to the question without a sign, how am I 
to make sure that “walking 55 is not taken to mean walking the 
exact distance that I actually walked. In that case my ques- 
tioner would be deceived, and would imagine that anyone who 
walked further or less far than I had walked, had not in fact 
walked at all. And what I have said of this one action applies to 
all those which I thought could be demonstrated without a 
sign, except the two I have mentioned. 

30. Aug . — I grant that. But now, don’t you think speaking 
and teaching are different things? Ad. — Certainly. If they were 



THE TEACHER 


91 

the same, no one could teach without speaking. Who can doubt 
there is a difference, seeing that:, in fact, we can teach many 
things with other signs besides words? Aug . — Is there any dif- 
ference between teaching and giving signs? Ad . — I think they 
are the same thing. Aug. — So it is correct to say that we give 
signs in order to teach? Ad. — Quite correct. Aug. — If anyone 
says that we teach in order to give signs, he can easily be re- 
futed by the previous sentence? Ad. — That is so. Aug.— If we 
give signs in order that we may teach, and do not teach in order 
that we may give signs, teaching and giving signs are different 
things. Ad. — You are right, and I was wrong when I said they 
were the same. Aug. — Now does he who shows us what teaching 
is do it by giving signs or otherwise? Ad. — I do not see how he 
can do it otherwise. Aug. — So you were wrong in saying a 
moment ago that, when the question is what teaching is, the 
true answer can be given without signs. Even this, we see, can- 
not be done without signs, and you have agreed that giving 
signs is a different thing from teaching. If, as now appears, they 
are different, teaching cannot be demonstrated without signs 
and by itself alone, as you thought. So up to this point we have 
discovered nothing that can be demonstrated by simply per- 
forming the action except speaking, which consists in giving 
signs. But even speaking is itself a sign, so that it seems there 
is absolutely nothing which can be taught without signs. 
Ad.—l have no reason for refusing my assent. 

31. Aug. — It is established then that: (a) nothing is taught 
without signs, (£) knowledge should be more precious to us 
than the signs by means of which we acquire it; though (c) pos- 
sibly not all things which are signified are better than the signs 
which indicate them. Ad. — So it seems. Aug. — -Just think what a 
tiny result has been reached by so long and circuitous a path. 
Since we began our conversation which has now continued for 
a long time, we have laboured to find answers to three ques- 
tions: ( a ) whether anything can be taught without signs, 
(b) whether some signs are to be preferred to the things which 
they signify, (<c) whether the knowledge of things is better than 
the knowledge of their signs. But there is a fourth question to 
which I should like to hear your answer. Do you think our 
results now stand beyond all doubt? Ad. — I should dearly like 
to think that after all these turnings and twistings we have in- 
deed reached certainty. But your question makes me anxious, 
and deters me from answering in the affirmative. For it seems 
to me that you would not have asked the question unless you 



92 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

had some difficulty in mind. The complexity of our problems 
does not allow me to examine the whole field or to answer with 
complete confidence. I am afraid there is something hidden in 
these complexities, to penetrate to which my mind is not sharp 
enough. Aug . — I am not at all unhappy about your hesitation, 
for it indicates a cautious mind. And caution is the best guard 
of tranquillity. It is the most difficult thing in the world not to 
be upset when opinions which we hold, and to which we have 
given a too ready and too wilful approval, are shattered by 
contrary arguments and are, as it were, weapons torn from our 
hands. It is a good thing to give in calmly to arguments that 
are well considered and grasped, just as it is dangerous to hold 
as known what in fact we do not know. We should be on our 
guard lest, when things are frequently undermined which we 
assumed would stand firm and abide, we fall into such hatred 
or fear of reason that we think we cannot trust even the most 
clearly manifest truth. 

32. But come, let us consider expeditiously whether you do 
right to hesitate about our conclusions. Suppose someone 
ignorant of how birds are deceived by twigs and birdlime should 
meet a birdcatcher equipped with his instruments but merely 
travelling and not actually engaged in his work. Suppose he 
followed the birdcatcher step by step and wonderingly thought 
and inquired what could be the purpose of the man’s equip- 
ment. Suppose the birdcatcher, seeing him all attention, and 
eager to display his skill, got ready his twigs and tubes and 
hawk and caught a bird, would he not teach the spectator what 
he wanted to know by the action itself and without any signs? 
Ad . — I suspect the same trouble would arise as I described in 
the case of the man who asked what £ 'walking” was. So far as I 
see the whole art of birdcatching has not been demonstrated. 
Aug . — That trouble can easily be removed by adding a further 
supposition. Suppose the spectator were sufficiently intelligent 
to learn the whole art from what he saw. It is sufficient for our 
present purpose that some men can be taught some, not all, 
things without a sign. Ad . — I can make the same additional 
supposition in the other case. A man who is sufficiently intel- 
ligent will learn the exact meaning of “walking” when the 
action has been shown by taking a few paces. Aug . — I have no 
objection to your doing so, and indeed I approve. Both of us 
have now shown that some men can be taught some things 
without signs, and that our previous view was wrong, that 
nothing at all can be shown without signs. Hence not one or 



THE TEACHER 


93 

two things but thousands of things occur to my mind which 
can be shown by themselves and without any sign. Why should 
we doubt it? I need not mention the innumerable spectacles 
which men exhibit in the theatres, showing them without any 
sign and just as they are. Think of the sun, the light that suffuses 
and clothes all things, the moon and the stars, earth and sea, 
and the innumerable things they bear. Does not God exhibit 
them in themselves to those who behold them? 

33. If we consider this a little more closely, perhaps you will 
find that nothing is learned even by its appropriate sign. If I 
am given a sign and I do not know the thing of which it is the 
sign, it can teach me nothing. If I know the thing, what do I 
learn from the sign? When I read (Dan. 3:27 : LXX Dan. 3:94) : 
“Their saraballae were not changed,” the word, saraballae , does 
not indicate what it means. If I am told that some covering 
of the head is so called, would I know what a head is, or a 
covering, unless I knew already? Knowledge of such things 
comes to me not when they are named by others but when I 
actually see them. When these two syllables first struck my ear, 
ca-put , I was as ignorant of what they meant as I was of the 
meaning of saraballae when I first heard or read it. But when 
the word, caput, was frequently repeated, observing when it was 
said, I discovered it was the name of a thing well known to me 
from my having seen it. Before I made that discovery the word 
was merely a sound to me. It became a sign when I had learned 
the thing of which it was the sign. And this I had learned not 
from signs but from seeing the actual object. So the sign is 
learned from knowing the thing, rather than vice versa. 

34. To understand this better, suppose we hear the sound, 
caput , for the first time, not knowing whether it is merely a 
sound or whether it has some meaning. We ask what caput is. 
Remember we want to know not the thing signified but the sign, 
although we cannot have that knowledge so long as we do not 
know what it is a sign of. If, then, in answer to our question the 
thing is pointed out with a finger, we look at it and learn that 
that was a sign which we had heard but had not known before. 
In a sign there are two things, sound and meaning. We per- 
ceive the sound when it strikes our ear, while the meaning be- 
comes clear when we look at the thing signified. The pointing 
with the finger can indicate nothing but the object pointed out, 
and it points not to a sign but to a part of the body which we 
call caput . In that way, accordingly, I cannot learn the thing, 
because I knew it already, nor can I leam the sign because it is 



94 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

not pointed to. I am not greatly interested in the act of pointing. 
As a gesture it is a sign of something being pointed out 
rather than of the object pointed out. It is as when we say, 
“Lo”; for we are accustomed to use that adverb when we point 
with the finger in case one sign is not sufficient. What I am 
really trying to convince you of, if I can, is this. We learn noth- 
ing by means of these signs we call words. On the contrary, as 
I said, we learn the force of the word, that is the meaning which 
lies in the sound of the word, when we come to know the object 
signified by the word. Then only do we perceive that the word 
was a sign conveying that meaning. 

35. The same is true of the word “coverings,” and all the 
rest. But even when I have come to know them all, I still do not 
know what saraballae are. If someone points them out, or makes 
a drawing of them, or shows me something like them, I shall 
not say that he did not teach me what they were, though I 
could easily prove that that is true with a little more argument. 
I content myself with saying what is obvious; he did not teach 
me by words. If he saw them when I was present and called my 
attention to them by saying: “Lo, there ar t saraballae” I should 
learn something I did not know, not from any words spoken 
but by looking at the object pointed out to me. In this way I 
should learn and remember the thing that gives meaning to the 
word. In learning the thing I did not trust the words of another 
but my own eyes. I trusted the words simply so far as to direct 
my attention to what was pointed out, that is, to find my answer 
by looking at a visible object. 

xi, 36. The utmost value I can attribute to words is this. 
They bid us look for things, but they do not show them to us 
so that we may know them. He alone teaches me anything who 
sets before my eyes, or one of my other bodily senses, or my 
mind, the things which I desire to know. From words we can 
learn only words. Indeed we can learn only their sound and 
noise. Even if words, in order to be words really, must also be 
signs, I do not know that any sound I may hear is a word until 
I know what it means. Knowledge of words is completed by 
knowledge of things, and by the hearing of words not even 
words are learned. We learn nothing new when we know the 
words already, and when we don’t know them we cannot say 
we have learned anything unless we also learn their meaning. 
And their meaning we learn not from hearing their sound when 
they are uttered, but from getting to know the things they sig- 
nify. It is sound reasoning and truly said that when words are 



THE TEACHER 


95 

spoken we either know or do not: know what they mean. If we 
know, we do not learn, but are rather reminded of what we 
know. If we do not know, we are not even reminded, but are 
perhaps urged to inquire. 

37. But you may say: granted we cannot know those head- 
coverings, the sound of whose name we remember, unless we 
see them, and that we cannot fully know the name until we 
know the thing. But what about those young men of whom we 
have heard (Dan. 3) how they vanquished King Nebuchad- 
nezzar and his fiery furnace by their faithfulness and religion, 
how they sang praises to God, and won honours from their 
enemy? Have we learned about them otherwise than by means 
of words? I reply, Yes. But we already knew the meaning of all 
these words. I already knew the meaning of “three youths,” 
“furnace,” “fire,” “king,” “unhurt by fire” and so on. But the 
names, Ananias, Az arias and Misael, are as unknown to me as 
saraballae , and the names did not help me to know them and 
could not help me. All that we read of in that story happened 
at that time and was written down, so that I have to confess I 
must believe rather than know. And the writers whom we 
believe were not ignorant of the difference. For the prophet 
says: “Unless ye believe ye shall not know” (Isa. 7:9: LXX). 
This he would not have said if he had thought there was no dif- 
ference,, What I know I also believe, but I do not know every- 
thing that I believe. All that I understand I know, but I do not 
know all that I believe. And I know how useful it is to believe 
many things which I do not know, among them this story about 
the three youths. I know how useful it is to believe many things 
of which knowledge is not possible. 

38. Concerning universal of which we can have knowledge, 
we do not listen to anyone speaking and making sounds outside 
ourselves. We listen to Truth which presides over our minds 
within us, though of course we may be bidden to listen by 
someone using words. Our real Teacher is he who is so listened 
to, who is said to dwell in the inner man, namely Christ, that 
is, the unchangeable power and eternal wisdom of God. To 
this wisdom every rational soul gives heed, but to each is given 
only so much as he is able to receive, according to his own good 
or evil will. If anyone is ever deceived it is not the fault of Truth, 
any more than it is the fault of the common light of day that the 
bodily eyes are often deceived. Confessedly we must pay heed 
to the light that it may let us discern visible things so far as we 
are able. 



96 AUGUSTINE.* EARLIER WRITINGS 

xii, 39. On the one hand we need light that we may see 
colours, and the elements of this world and sentient bodies that 
we may perceive things of sense, and the senses themselves 
which the mind uses as interpreters in its search for sense- 
knowledge. On the other hand, to know intelligible things with 
our reason we pay attention to the interior truth. How, then, 
can it be shown that words teach us anything besides the sound 
that strikes the ear? Everything we perceive we perceive either 
by bodily sense or by the mind. The former we call “sensible 
things,” the latter “intelligible things”; or, to use the termin- 
ology of our Christian authors, the former we call “carnal 
things,” the latter “spiritual things.” When we are asked about 
the former we reply if they are present to our senses, for example, 
if we are looking at the new moon and someone asks what it is 
or where. If our questioner does not see it he believes our words, 
or perhaps often does not believe them, but he learns nothing 
unless he himself sees what he is asking about. When he sees he 
learns not from words uttered but from the objects seen and his 
sense of sight. Words would have the same sound whether he 
saw or not. When the question concerns not things which are 
present to our senses but which once were, we do not speak of 
the things themselves, but of images derived from them and 
imprinted on the memory. I do not know how we can call these 
things true, since what we have in view are only false images, 
unless it is because we speak of them not as things we see and feel 
but as things we have seen and felt. So in the halls of memory we 
bear the images of things once perceived as memorials which we 
can contemplate mentally and can speak of with a good con- 
science and without lying. But these memorials belong to us 
privately. If anyone hears me speak of them, provided he has seen 
them himself, he does not learn from my words, but recognizes 
the truth of what I say by the images which he has in his own 
memory. But if he has not had these sensations, obviously he 
believes my words rather than learns from them. 

40. But when we have to do with things which we behold 
with the mind, that is, with the intelligence and with reason, 
we speak of things which we look upon directly in the inner 
light of truth which illumines the inner man and is inwardly 
enjoyed. There again if my hearer sees these things himself with 
his inward eye, he comes to know what I say, not as a result of 
my words but as a result of his own contemplation. Even when 
I speak what is true and he sees what is true, it is not I who 
teach him. He is taught not by my words but by the things 



THE TEACHER 


97 

themselves which inwardly God has made manifest to him. 
Accordingly, if asked he can make answer regarding these 
things. What could be more absurd than that he should suppose 
that by my speaking I have taught him, when, if asked, he could 
himself have explained these things before I spoke? It often 
happens that a man, when asked a question, gives a negative 
answer, but by further questioning can be brought to answer 
in the affirmative. The reason lies in his own weakness. He is 
unable to let the light illumine the whole problem. Though he 
cannot behold the whole all at once, yet when he is questioned 
about the parts which compose the whole, he is induced to 
bring them one by one into the light. He is so induced by the 
words of his questioner, words, mark you, which do not make 
statements, but merely ask such questions as put him who is 
questioned in a position to learn inwardly. For example, if I 
were to ask you the question I am at present discussing: 4 4 Can 
nothing be taught by means of words?” it might at first seem 
to you to be absurd because you cannot visualize the whole 
problem.. So I must put my question in a way suited to your 
ability to hear the inward Teacher. Then, when you have 
admitted that what I said was true, that you are certain of it, 
and assuredly know it, I should say: “Where did you learn 
that?” You might reply that I had taught you. Then I should 
say: “If I were to tell you that I had seen a man flying, would 
my words render you as certain of their truth as if I had said, 
‘Wise men are better than fools’?” You would certainly say: 
“No, I don’t believe your first statement, or, if I believe it, I 
certainly do not know that it is true; but your second statement 
I know most certainly to be true.” In this way you would realize 
that neither in the case of your not knowing what I affirmed, 
nor in the case of your knowing quite well, had you learned 
anything from my words, because in answer to each question 
you were able to answer confidently that you did not know this 
and that you did know that. When you realize that all the parts 
which constitute the whole are clear and certain, you will then 
admit what you had denied. You will agree that a man who has 
heard what we have said must either not know whether it is 
true, or know that it is false, or know that it is true. In the first 
case he must either believe it, or suppose it, or doubt it. In the 
second case he must oppose it and deny it. In the third case he 
must testify to its truth. In no case, therefore, will he learn. 
When my words have been spoken both he who does not know 
whether my words are true, and he who knows they are false, 

A.E.W. 7 



98 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

and he who could have given the same answers when asked 
are proved to have learned nothing from my words. 

xiii, 41. Wherefore in matters which are discerned by the 
mind, whoever cannot discern them for himself listens vainly 
to the words of him who can, except that it is useful to believe 
such things so long as ignorance lasts. Whoever can discern 
them for himself is inwardly a disciple of the truth, and out- 
wardly a judge of the speaker, or rather of what he says. For 
often enough the hearer knows what is said even when the 
speaker does not. For example, suppose some believer in the 
Epicureans, who held that the soul is mortal, should expound the 
arguments used by wiser men in favour of the soul’s immortality 
in the hearing of one who can behold spiritual things. The latter 
judges that the former has spoken the truth, though the speaker 
does not know whether his words are true, and indeed believes 
them to be utterly false. Are we to think that he can teach what 
he does not know? Yet he uses the same words as he might use 
who does know. 

42. Hence words do not even have the function of indicating 
the mind of the speaker, if it is uncertain whether he knows what 
he is saying. There are liars too and deceivers, so that you can 
easily understand that words not only do not reveal the mind, 
but even serve to conceal it. I do not of course in any way doubt 
that the words of truthful people are endeavouring to reveal the 
mind of the speaker and make some claim to do so, and would 
do so, all would agree, if only liars were not allowed to speak. 
And yet we have often experienced in ourselves and others that 
words do not correctly convey thoughts. This can happen in 
one or other of two ways. A speech committed to memory and 
frequently conned may be spoken when we are thinking of 
something else entirely. This often happens when we are singing 
a hymn. Or by a slip of the tongue some words will get sub- 
stituted for others against our will, so that those which are heard 
are not signs of what is in our minds. Liars, too, think of the 
the things they speak about, so that even if we do not know 
whether they speak the truth, at least we know that they intend 
what they say, unless either of the two accidents occur which I 
have mentioned. If anyone contends that this sometimes occurs 
and can be noticed when it occurs, I make no objection, though 
it often is hidden and has often escaped my notice when I have 
been listening. 

43. There is the other kind of accident, very wide-spread and 
the seed of innumerable dissensions and strifes. The speaker in- 



THE TEACHER 


99 

deed expresses his thoughts but is understood only by himself 
and by some others. What he says does not convey the same 
meaning to those who hear him. For example, someone might 
say in our hearing that some wild beasts surpass man in virtue. 
Our impulse would be not to endure it, but to use every effort 
to refute such a false and pestilential opinion. But possibly he is 
giving the name of virtue to bodily strength, and has correctly 
expressed his mind. He is not lying. He is not substantially 
wrong. He is not uttering words committed to memory while he 
he has something else in mind. He has not spoken the wrong 
word by a slip of the tongue. He has simply called the thing he 
has in mind by a different name from the one we are accus- 
tomed to use. We should at once agree with him if we could see 
into his thought, which he had not made clear by the words he 
used in expressing his opinion. It is said that definition is the 
remedy for this mistake. If in this question he would define 
virtue, it would be apparent, they say, that the controversy was 
not about the substance of his statement but about a word. I 
should agree that that is so, but how often is a man to be found 
who is good at definition? Many things, too, are urged against 
the discipline of definition, but this is not the opportune place 
to deal with them, and I do not approve of them. 

44. I need not mention the fact that often we do not rightly 
hear what is said, and enter into lengthy arguments over things 
we wrongly thought we heard. For example, recently, when I 
said that a certain Punic word meant mercy, you said that you 
had heard from those who knew the language better that it 
meant piety. I objected, insisting that you had quite misunder- 
stood what you had been told, for I thought you said not piety 
but faith. Now you were sitting quite close to me, and these two 
words are not so alike in sound as to deceive the ear. For a long 
time I thought you did not know what had been told you, while 
all the time I did not know what you had said. If I had heard 
you aright I should not have thought it absurd that piety and 
mercy should be expressed by one word in Punic. Such mis- 
understandings often occur, but, as I said, let us omit them lest 
I should put upon words the blame that is due to the negligence 
of listeners, or seem to be troubled by human deafness. My 
chief troubles are those I have mentioned, where by means of 
words clearly heard, Latin words when Latin is our mother- 
tongue, we are yet unable to learn the thoughts of those who 
speak to us. 

xiv, 45. Putting aside all these exceptions, I agree that 



IOO 


AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 


when words are heard by one who knows them, he can also 
know that the speaker has thought the things which the words 
signify. Now the question is, does he also learn that the words 
spoken are true? Do teachers profess that it is their thoughts 
that are learned and retained, and not the disciplines which 
they imagine they transmit by their speaking? Who is so 
foolishly curious as to send his son to school to learn what the 
teacher thinks? When the teachers have expounded by means 
of words all the disciplines which they profess to teach, the dis- 
ciplines also of virtue and wisdom, then their pupils take 
thought within themselves whether what they have been told is 
true, looking to the inward truth, that is to say, so far as they 
are able. In this way they learn. And when they find inwardly 
that what they have been told is true they praise their teachers, 
not knowing that they really praise not teachers but learned 
men, if the teachers really know what they express in words. 
Men are wrong when they call those teachers who are not. But 
because very often there is no interval between the moment of 
speaking and the moment of knowing, and because they in- 
wardly learn immediately after the speaker has given his ad- 
monition, they suppose that they have been taught in an 
external fashion by him who gave the admonition. 

46. At another time, if God permit, we shall inquire into the 
whole problem of the usefulness of words, for their usefulness 
properly considered is not slight. Now I have warned you that 
we must not attribute to them a greater importance than they 
ought to have, so that now we should not only believe but also 
begin to understand how truly it is written by divine authority 
that we are to call no one on earth our teacher, for One is our 
teacher who is in heaven (cf. Matt. 23:10). What is meant by 
“in heaven” he will teach us, by whom we are admonished 
through human agency and by external signs to be inwardly 
converted to him and so to be instructed. To know and to love 
him is the blessed life, which all proclaim that they are seeking 
but few have the joy of really finding. But I should like you to 
tell me what you think of my whole discourse. If you know that 
what I have said is true, and if you had been interrogated at 
every point, you would have answered that you knew it to be 
true. You see, then, who taught you; certainly not I, for you 
would of your own accord have given the right answer each 
time I asked. If, on the other hand, you do not know that what 
I have said is true, neither I nor the inward teacher has taught 
you. Not I, because I have never the power to teach anyone; 



THE TEACHER 


IOI 


and not he, because you have not yet the power to learn. Ad . — I 
have learned by your warning words, that by means of words a 
man is simply put on the alert in order that he may learn; also 
that very little of the thought of a speaker is made evident by 
his speaking. I have also learned that in order to know the truth 
of what is spoken, I must be taught by him who dwells within 
and gives me counsel about words spoken externally in the ear. 
By his favour I shall love him the more ardently the more I 
advance in learning. And I am specially grateful that latterly 
you have spoken without the interruption of questions and 
answers, because you have taken up and resolved all the diffi- 
culties I was prepared to urge against you. You omitted nothing 
at all that caused me to doubt; and in every case the Secret 
Oracle of which you have spoken has answered me exactly 
according to your words. 



On Free Will 


Augustine's Review of the “ De Libero Ar bitrio” 

Retractations , /, ix 

I. While we were still delayed at Rome we determined to dis- 
cuss the question of the origin of evil. The principle on which 
the discussion was to proceed was this. We were to try if possible 
to let rational argument, so far as we could with God’s help in 
our discussion, demonstrate to our intellects what we already 
believed about the matter on divine authority. After careful 
reasoning we agreed that evil has no other origin than in the 
free choice of the will. So the three books which the discussion 
produced are called Of Free Will . Of these I completed Books II 
and III in Africa after I had been ordained presbyter at 
Hippo-regius, using such opportunity as I then could command. 

2. In these books many things are discussed. Several ques- 
tions arose which I could not solve or which required lengthy 
treatment. They were so broadly handled in their pros and 
cons that, either way, even when it was not quite clear where 
the truth lay, our reasoning led to this conclusion: Whatever be 
true in these difficult matters, it is to be believed, or indeed it is 
demonstrated, that God is to be praised. The disputation was 
undertaken on account of those who deny that evil derives its 
origin from the free choice of the will and who contend accord- 
ingly that God the Creator of all things is to be blamed. In this 
way, following their impious error (for they are Manichees), 
they seek to introduce an evil nature, unchangeable and co- 
eternal with God. Because this was the subject we proposed to 
debate, there is no discussion in these books of the grace of God 
whereby he has predestined his elect and himself prepares the 
wills of those among them who make use of their freedom of 
choice. But wherever an occasion occurs to make mention of 
this grace it is mentioned in passing, not laboriously defended 

102 



ON FREE WILL 


103 

as if it were in question. It is one thing to inquire into the origin 
of evil, and another to seek the means of returning to man’s 
original good estate or even to a better one. 

3. Wherefore, do not let the Pelagians exult as if I had been 
pleading their cause, because in these books I said much in 
favour of free will, which was necessary for the purpose I had 
in view in that discussion. For the Pelagians are a new brand of 
heretics who assert the freedom of the will in such a way as 
to leave no room for the grace of God, since they say it is 
given to us according to our merits. I have said, it is true, in the 
First Book, that evil-doing is punished by God. And I added; 
“It would not be justly punished unless it were done volun- 
tarily.” Again when I was showing that a good will is so great a 
good that it should deservedly be preferred to all material and 
external goods, I said: “You see now, I believe, that it lies with 
our will whether we enjoy or lack so great and so true a good. 
For what is more in the power of the will than the will itself?” 
[He quotes a large number of similar passages to the effect that 
man can live aright if he will, concluding with this from Book 
III. xviii. 50] “Who commits sin by an act which he could by 
no means avoid? If sin has been committed, therefore it 
could have been avoided.” Pelagius has made use of this quota- 
tion in one of his books; and when I had written a book in reply 
to his I chose as its title De Natura et Gratia. 

4. In these and similar words of mine no mention is made of 
the grace of God, because it was not under discussion. Hence 
the Pelagians think, or may think, that I once held their 
opinion. But that is a vain thought. Certainly, will is that by 
which a man sins or lives righteously, as I argued in these words. 
But mortals cannot live righteously and piously unless the will 
itself is liberated by the grace of God from the servitude to sin 
into which it has fallen, and is aided to overcome its vices. Un- 
less this divine liberating gift preceded the good will, it would 
be the reward of its merits and would not be grace, which is 
grace precisely because it is freely given. This point I have 
sufficiently urged in other works of mine in refutation of these 
recent heretics who are enemies of this grace. And yet even in 
these books On Free Will which were written not at all against 
them, for they did not yet exist, but against the Manichees, I 
have not been completely silent about the grace of God, which 
in their horrible impiety they are endeavouring to abolish. In 
the Second Book I said that not only great goods but even the 
least goods cannot be had save from him from whom are all 



104 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

good things, namely God. [He quotes at length II. xix. 50.] 
Again I said: £ Relieve with unshakable piety that you have no 
good which does not come from God. 55 And again, “Since man 
cannot rise of his own accord as he fell by his own accord, let 
us with strong faith hold fast the right hand of God stretched 
to us from above, even our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

5. In the Third Book, after the words which as I mentioned 
Pelagius made use of from my book — “Who commits sin by an 
act which he could by no means avoid? Sin has been committed, 
therefore it could have been avoided” — I immediately add: 
“And yet some things are done in ignorance which are dis- 
approved . . .” [III. xviii. 51 is quoted at length.] At the close 
of the next paragraph I say: “To approve falsehood instead of 
truth, so as to err in spite of himself, and not to be able to re- 
frain from the works of lust, because of the pain involved in 
breaking away from earthly bonds; these do not belong to the 
nature of man as he was created. They are the penalty of man 
as condemned. When we speak of the freedom of the will to 
do right we are speaking of the freedom wherein man was 
created.” 

6. You see that long before the Pelagian heresy emerged, I 
disputed as if I were already arguing against it. All good things, 
great, medium and small, were said to come from God. Free 
will was put among the medium goods, because we can make a 
bad as well as a good use of it, and yet it is good because we 
cannot live righteously without it. To make a good use of it is 
virtue, and virtue is found among the greater goods, of which 
no one can make a bad use. Because all good things, as I said, 
great, medium and small, come from God, it follows that from 
God also comes the good use of free will, which is virtue, and 
which is numbered among the greater goods. Then I go on to 
say that the grace of God liberates men from the misery inflicted 
on sinners, because man was able to fall of his own accord, that 
is, by free will, but was not able to rise of his own accord. To 
the misery due to just condemnation belong the ignorance and 
inability which every man suffers from his birth. From that 
evil no man is delivered save by the grace of God. The Pelagians 
will not have it that misery springs from man’s just condemna- 
tion, for they deny original sin. But even if ignorance and in- 
ability did belong to man’s primordial nature, still God should 
not be blamed but praised, as I argued in that same Third Book, 
This thesis is to be maintained against the Manichees who do 
not accept the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament, in which 



ON FREE WILL 


IO5 

original sin is recorded; and what is said about it in the apostolic 
writings they contend with detestable impudence has been 
interpolated by corrupters of the Scriptures, as if the apostles 
had not said it. But against the Pelagians we must defend what 
is maintained in both Testaments, for they profess to accept 
both. 



On Free Will 

INTRODUCTION 

I t is doubtful whether the De Libero Arbitrio , 
at all events in its entirety, is to be included among the 
works known to Paulinus of Nola in 394 and called by him 
Augustine’s “Pentateuch against the Manichees,” for we find 
Augustine sending the three books to Paulinus in 395/6 
(. Epist . 31). In any case it was written against the Manichees, 
though not simply as a piece of negative polemic. It is an 
attempt to give a reasoned answer to the question which the 
Manichees, like the Gnostics, sought to solve by means of an 
absolute dualism: Whence is evil? The subject is, in fact, the 
nature and origin of evil, but because its origin is found in 
the free will of the rational creation, the whole work received 
the title it bears. 

Augustine began to write it during his short sojourn in Rome 
on his way home to Africa, but he completed the Second and 
Third Books after his ordination as presbyter, possibly as late 
as 396. Books I and II, which are in dialogue form, appear to 
be properly finished. In the Third Book the dialogue ceases 
abruptly at section 10, and the interlocutor seems to be quite 
forgotten except for a brief intervention in section 47. This fact, 
together with the difficulty of discerning a clear and coherent 
plan of composition, has given rise to the suggestion that this 
Book is rather a collection of materials put together at different 
times. It is noteworthy that, particularly towards the end, 
specifically Christian doctrines are handled albeit tentatively, 
e.g., the work of Christ (29-31); the effect of the sin of Adam 
(51-54); theories of the origin of the soul (55-59), none of which 
is to be held obligatory. Occasionally, too, recourse is had 
to Scripture quotation in the writer’s later manner. On the 

106 



ON FREE WILL 


107 

whole the De Libero Arbitrio may be regarded as the high- 
water mark of his earlier works, and the best and fullest exposi- 
tion of what may be called the peculiarly Augustinian brand 
of Neoplatonism. 

In controverting the Manichees with largely Platonist 
weapons Augustine had exposed his flank to the Pelagians. 
Pelagius himself was happy to be able to quote from the De 
Libero Arbitrio in support of his own views. Augustine’s defence 
is not altogether convincing, viz., that Peiagianism had not yet 
emerged when he wrote, and that the purpose of the work gave 
no occasion to speak of grace. It is true enough that at the very 
beginning of Book I he tells us that he received divine aid to 
enable him to escape from Manichaean error, and that through- 
out free will is assumed to be a gift of God. Pelagius made a 
point of that too. But the passages quoted in the Retractations as 
showing that the De Libero Arbitrio is virtually anti-pelagian all 
come from what must certainly be regarded as the later parts 
of the work. 


ANALYSIS 
Book I 

i, 1 — ii, 5. God is believed to be both good and just. Can this 
be rationally demonstrated? 

(1) Evil means wrong-doing. Suffering is the just punishment 
of wrong-doing, therefore is not evil. If punishment is just, 
the wrong-doing must be voluntary. Therefore God is not 
the author of evil. (2) Evil cannot be taught. Only how to 
avoid it is taught. (4-5) In this inquiry we begin with faith: 
God is omnipotent creator of all things. Being the absolute 
good God cannot be the cause of evil. We seek to demonstrate 
our faith by reason. 

iii, 6 — vi, 15. The Essence of Wrong-doing. 

(6-7) What is the essence of evil in various deeds reputed 
evil? Not that they are condemned by law or public opinion; 
not even that they transgress the rule not to do to others what 
you would not have done to yourself. (9) It is something 
internal, cupidity, i.e., (10) love of things one may lose un- 
willingly. (11) What of killing, judicially or in war, which is 
permissible and even commanded? (13) Positive law reflects 
imperfectly a higher law. (14) Temporal laws are changed 



108 AUGUSTINE.* EARLIER WRITINGS 

according to circumstances, but (15) reflect in this life the 
eternal law of reason. All things must be in perfect order. 

vii, 16 — xi, 23. Perfect Order in Man. 

(16) Man is superior to the beasts in possessing reason. 

(17) Rational life is better than life without reason. (18) 
Order means that the worse is subordinated to the better, 
that reason rules the emotions. (19) All men have reason, 
though the majority may be fools. When reason rules, a man 
is wise. (20) No vicious soul can overcome a virtuous soul. 
Indeed nothing can do so. Hence sin is voluntary and (22) 
man’s present state of ignorance and inability is the just 
penalty of voluntary sin. 

xii, 24 — xiv, 30. The Good Will. 

(24) We accept the story of the Fall in faith, but how can we 
maintain by reason the justice of man’s present plight? (25) 
All men wish to live rightly and to reach wisdom, i.e., have 
a good will. (27) This implies possession of prudence, forti- 
tude, temperance and justice and (28) happiness. (29) Hence 
the happy life is attained by simply willing to have it. (30) All 
men wish to be happy, but not all succeed. This is in accord- 
ance with the eternal law that happiness is the reward of 
goodness and unhappiness is the punishment of wickedness. 

xv, 31 — xvi, 35. Temporal and Eternal Law. 

(31) Good men love the eternal law and obey it with pleasure. 
Bad men hate it but are subject to it, and on them the tem- 
poral law is imposed. (32) Temporal law regulates worldly 
desires so that peace and social life may be preserved. It 
regulates temporal relationships, life, property, kinship and 
citizenship. It inflicts punishments which are felt as evil by 
men who love material things. It does not punish the desire 
for these things but only infringements of the rights of others. 
( 33 ) Worldly things are not evil in themselves, but are not 
necessary for the good life. (34) Evil-doing is neglect of 
eternal things and love of temporal things to the extent of 
becoming subject to them. This is done by the free choice 
of the will. 

Book II 

i, 1 — ii, 6. Ought God to have given Man Free Will? 

(1) Free will makes sin possible but it was given that man 
might live righteously. If he uses it badly he is justly pun- 
ished. (4) We believe that God exists and is good, and that 
all his gifts are good. (5) This is proved by the authority of 



ON FREE WILL 


IOg 

Scripture, but we seek rational demonstration. (6) Scripture 
encourages this endeavour. It demands faith to begin with 
but promises understanding. Three questions to be discussed 
(i) Does God exist? (ii) Are all good tilings from him? (iii) Is 
free will a good thing? 
iii, 7 — xv, 39. Proof of the Existence of God. 

(7) Existence, life, intelligence form an ascending scale of 
being. Man excels animals in having all three. (8 ff.) Living 
creatures have senses wherewith they perceive corporeal ob- 
jects. They have also an interior sense which co-ordinates the 
work of the senses, and is superior to them because it is their 
ruler and judge. (13) Man alone has reason, which in turn 
is superior to the senses and the interior sense, because it 
judges them all. (14) If there be something eternal and un- 
changeable which is superior to reason, that will be God. 
(15-19) The senses belong to individuals, but the world per- 
ceived by them is common to all who perceive it. (20-24) So 
the science of number, which has nothing to do with the 
senses, is common to all reasoning beings who are capable of 
mastering it. (25-27) Is wisdom also common to all, or are 
there as many “wisdoms” as there are wise men? For men 
vary in their views as to what wisdom is. But all agree that 
wisdom is a combination of truth and happiness, which can- 
not be had except in conjunction. All men seek truth and 
happiness. Hence both are in a sense known to all men, though 
they seek their supreme good in different things. (28-29) 
There are self-evident truths common to all minds, general 
judgments of value. These rules of wisdom are true and un- 
changeable and common to all men. (30-32) Wisdom be- 
longs only to rational souls but number permeates all existing 
things. There is some relationship between wisdom and 
number. Both are true, and truth is the common property of 
all minds. (34 ff.) But, truth is superior to the mind because 
it is unchangeable and eternal. We say of it that it is so, not 
that it ought to be so. Possession of truth makes men happy. 
Panegyric on truth. (39) Truth, being superior to our minds 
and having nothing superior to it, is God, the Father of 
Wisdom, whose only begotten Son is hiis equal. The existence 
of God has been proved; faith has become knowledge, albeit 
a pale and tenuous form of knowledge, 
xv, 40 — xvii, 46. Form and order, wisdom and number are good 
things. They pervade all created things. Therefore all good 
things come from God. 



no 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


xviii, 47 — xx, 54. Is Free Will a good Thing? 

(48) The soul is better than the body; in both there are good 
qualities that may be abused. (49) Things necessary and not 
necessary for the good life. (50) The virtues are necessary 
and cannot be badly used. Bodily goods are not necessary 
and can be badly used. There are intermediate goods which 
are necessary and can be badly used, e.g. (52) Free will, 
which is necessary for the good life, but may be used badly. 
It may seek and cleave to the unchangeable common good, 
or it may seek its own private good. To turn from the highest 
good to any lower good is evil, of which unhappiness is the 
just penalty. This “aversion 95 is purely voluntary; its only 
cause is in the will. 


Book III 

i, 1 — iv, 11. God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Freedom. 

(1) Sin is a movement of the will away from unchangeable 
good to mutable good. Is this caused by natural necessity? 

(2) Unlike the movement of a falling stone, it is voluntary 
and therefore culpable. (4) How is this compatible with our 
belief in God’s foreknowledge of all things? (5) That question 
is often asked by way of excuse by sinners. (6-10) God fore- 
knows what his creatures are going to do, but does not 
thereby rob them of the freedom of willing. Foreknowledge 
is not coercion. God is not the agent of all that he fore- 
knows. 

v, 1 2 — xiii, 36. God is to be praised for all his Creatures. 

(12) God has made all things good in all possible and con- 
ceivable variety, but in varying degrees of excellence. In- 
ferior things are not to be grudged existence. (17) Mere 
utility from man’s point of view is no standard for measuring 
the value of God’s creatures. We may not say that he ought to 
have made any of them better than he has made them. 
(18-23) The miserable do not really wish to die. Existence of 
any kind as such is good. The suicide seeks not non-existence 
but rest. (24) The universe is perfect as it is; it is impious to 
criticize its parts. (25-26) The existence of souls justly miser- 
able contributes to that perfection. Unless sin had its due 
penalty there would be lack of order. (29-31) The work of 
Christ in delivering man by persuasion from subjection to 
the devil. (32 ff.) The perfection of the universe redounds to 
the praise of its Creator. 



ON FREE WILL 


III 


xiii, 37 — xvi, 46. Sin is Defect. 

(38) Sin is defect in an otherwise perfect nature. (41) To find 
fault with the defect is to praise the nature in its true state. 
(42) Transience is no defect in temporal things; without it 
the whole beauty of the temporal sequence would not be 
able to display itself. (44) Sin inevitably brings its own pen- 
alty according to God’s law, and so is compensated for in 
the universe as a whole. (46) To attribute man’s sin to his 
Creator is a contradiction. If his sin is not his own doing it 
is not sin. 

xvii, 47 — xxi, 62. The Cause of the Evil Will. The Effects of 
the Fall. 

(48) To ask for the cause of the evil will is to start an infinite 
regress. (50) There can never have been compulsion, else the 
deed was not sin. But (51) there are sins due to ignorance and 
inability. (52) Man’s state of ignorance and inability is 
itself penal. Only as originally created, i.e., before the Fall, 
had man freedom to will and to do right. (53) In addition to 
original sin, men contract personal sins by refusing humbly 
to confess sin and to accept God’s proffered help. (54) Strictly 
speaking, human nature means that nature as created, but 
we also use the expression of man’s vitiated nature in its pre- 
sent penal condition. (55-60) Transmission of original sin. 
Four theories of the origin of the soul but none is obligatory 
for Christian faith. (61) The origin of the soul is a fit subject 
for inquiry, but knowledge of it is not necessary for salvation. 
More important than the past is the goal ahead. (63) No 
cause of sin need be looked for other than the individual will. 

xxii, 64 — xxiii, 70. Man’s Advantage even in his Penal State. 
(64) Man may rise above his ignorance and inability to wis- 
dom and righteousness. To neglect to do so is sin. (65) He has 
both the capacity and the aid of God. Against this optimism 
various objections are urged. (66 f.) Infants often die before 
they acquire any merit, even if they are baptized — but their 
parents’ faith may be imputed to them. (68 ff.) There are 
the grievous sufferings of children and animals. But suffering 
has its proper uses. All elements in our experience point to 
the goodness of the Creator. 

xxiv, 71 — xxv, 77. The Origin of Sin. 

(71 ff.) Man as created was neither wise nor foolish, but he 
was rational, i.e., capable of receiving and understanding 
God’s commandment. According as he obeyed or disobeyed 
the commandment he would become wise or foolish. He 



1 12 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

became foolish by willingly making himself his own good, in- 
stead of seeking his good in God . (74 ff.) But the will is moved 
by something external to itself and outwith its own power. 
In the case of Adam there was the commandment of God on 
the one hand, and the suggestion of the devil on the other. 
But what enticed the devil to sin? Simply the will perversely 
to imitate God. He thus began to be proud, then became 
envious and finally malevolent. His eternal punishment is a 
warning to men. 



On Free Will 


THE TEXT 
Book I 

i, i. Evodius . — Tell me, pray, whether God be not the author of 
evil. Augustine . — I shall tell you, if you will make it clear what 
you mean by evil in your question. For we are wont to use the 
word evil in two senses: the evil a man has done, and the evil he 
has suffered. Evodius . — I want to know about both kinds of evil. 
Augustine . — If you know or believe that God is good (and we 
may not think otherwise) he cannot do evil. Again, if we confess 
that God is just (and to deny that is sacrilegious) he gives re- 
wards to the good just as he gives punishments to the wicked, 
but of course these punishments are evil to those who suffer 
them. Hence if no one is penalized unjustly — and this we must 
believe, seeing we believe that the universe is governed by 
divine providence — God is not the author of the evil a man does 
though he is the author of the evil a man suffers. Ev . — Is there 
then some other author of the kind of evil which we do not 
attribute to the action of God? Aug . — There certainly is, for we 
cannot say that it happens without an author. But if you ask 
who that is I cannot tell you. For there is no one single author. 
Every evil man is the author of his evil deeds. If you wonder 
how that is, consider what we have just said: evil deeds are 
punished by the justice of God. They would not be justly 
punished unless they were done voluntarily. 

2. Ev . — I do not know whether anyone sins without being 
taught to do evil. If that is true I ask from whom have we 
learned to do wrong. Aug . — Is learning a good thing? Ev . — Who 
would venture to say it was a bad thing? Aug . — Perhaps it is 
neither good nor bad? Ev . — I think it is a good thing. Aug . — 
Quite right, at any rate if learning gives and stirs up knowledge, 
and if it is the only path to knowledge. Don’t you agree that 



1 14 AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 

this is so? Ev . — I think that nothing but good is learned by edu- 
cation. Aug . — Yet possibly evil is also learned in this way, for 
learning [ disciplina ] is derived from the verb “to learn 55 [discere]. 
Ev. — How, then, are evils committed by a man if they are not 
learned? Aug . — Possibly because he turns away from learning 
and stands apart from it. However that may be, it is at least 
manifest that, since learning is good, evil cannot be learned. If 
it is learned, it must be a part of education, and education will 
not be good. But, as you yourself admit, it is good. Evil, there- 
fore, is not learned, and it is vain to ask from whom we have 
learned to do evil. Or, if indeed evil is learned, that can only be 
in the sense that we learn to avoid deeds which ought not to be 
done. Hence to do evil is nothing but to stray away from 
education. 

3. Ev . — I think there must be two kinds of education, one by 
which we learn to do well and one by which we learn to do evil. 
When you asked whether education was a good thing I replied 
that it was, because my enthusiasm for the good made me think 
of the education that teaches to do good. Now I have a sus- 
picion that there is another kind, which I have no doubt is a 
bad thing. Aug . — At any rate you regard intelligence as entirely 
a good thing? Ev . — So good indeed that a man can have nothing 
better. I should never say that intelligence can possibly be evil. 
Aug . — If a man has been taught something but does not under- 
stand it, could you regard him as learned? Ev . — Certainly not. 
Aug . — If intelligence is entirely good and is the necessary result 
of learning, every one who learns does well and also arrives at 
intelligence, and so again does well. Whoever asks for the cause 
of our learning anything simply asks for the cause of our doing 
well. So do not look for any teacher of evil. If he is evil he is not 
a teacher. If he is a teacher he is not evil. 

ii, 4. Ev . — Since you force me to agree that we are not 
taught to do evil, tell me the cause why we do evil. Aug . — That 
is a question that gave me great trouble when I was a young 
man. It wearied me and drove me into the arms of heretics. 
By that accident I was so afflicted and overwhelmed with such 
masses of vain fables that, had not my love of finding the truth 
obtained divine aid, I could never have found my way out or 
breathed the pure air of free inquiry. But I took the greatest 
pains to find deliverance from that quandary, so in discoursing 
with you I shall follow the order which led to my own deliver- 
ance. May God grant his aid, and give us to understand 
what we have first believed. The steps are laid down by the 



ON FREE WILL 


115 

prophet who says: 4 ‘Unless ye believe ye shall not understand” 
(Isa. 7:9 LXX). We know well that we must hold fast to that. 
We believe that all things which exist are from one God; and 
yet God is not the author of sins. The difficulty for the mind is 
this. If sins originate with souls which God has created, and 
which therefore have their origin from God, how are sins not 
to be charged against God at least mediately? 

5. Ev . — Now you have plainly stated the problem that was 
troubling my mind, and which impelled me to ask my question. 
Aug . — Have courage, and hold to your faith. You cannot do 
better than believe even when you do not know the reason for 
your faith. To think the best of God is the truest foundation of 
piety. And to think the best of God means to believe that he is 
omnipotent and absolutely unchangeable, that he is the 
Creator of all good things, being himself more excellent than 
them all; that he is the most just ruler of all that he has created; 
that he had no assistance in creating as if he were not sufficient 
in himself. Hence he created all things of nothing. One, how- 
ever, he did not create, but begat, One equal to himself, whom 
we call the only Son of God, whom we endeavour to describe 
more fully when we call him the Power and Wisdom of God. 
By him he made all things which are made of nothing. Having 
stated these articles of our faith let us strive with God’s help to 
reach understanding of the problem which you have raised, 
and in this fashion. 

iii, 6. You ask for the cause of our doing evil. First we must 
discuss what doing evil is. Tell me what you think about this. 
If you cannot put the whole thing briefly in a few words, at 
least indicate your opinion by naming some evil deeds one by 
one. Ev. — Adultery, homicide, sacrilege. I need mention no 
more. To enumerate all the others neither time nor my memory 
would be sufficient. But no one doubts that those I have men- 
tioned are examples of evil deeds. Aug.-TtH me now why you 
think adultery is evil. Is it because it is forbidden by law? Ev . — 
It is not evil because it is forbidden by law. It is forbidden 
by law because it is evil. Aug . — Suppose someone were to 
press us, stressing the delights of adultery and asking why it 
is evil and why we think it worthy of condemnation. Do 
you think that people who wanted not only to believe that 
adultery is evil but also to know the reason why it is so, would 
be driven to appeal to the authority of the law? You and I be- 
lieve without the slightest hesitation that adultery is evil, and I 
declare that all peoples and nations must believe that too. But 



Il6 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

our present endeavour is to obtain intelligent knowledge and 
assurance of what we have accepted in faith. Give this matter 
your best consideration and tell me the reason why you know 
that adultery is evil. Ev. — I know it is evil because I should not 
wish it to be committed with my own wife. Whoever does to an- 
other what he would not have done to himself does evil. Aug . — 
Suppose someone offered his wife to another, being willing that 
she should be corrupted by him in return for a similar licence 
allowed him with the other’s wife. Would he have done no 
evil? Ev. — Far from that. He would have done great evil. 
Aug . — And yet his sin does not come under your general rule, 
for he does not do what he would not have done to him. You 
must find another reason to prove that adultery is evil. 

7. Ev. — I think it evil because I have often seen men con- 
demned on this charge. Aug. — But are not men frequently con- 
demned for righteous deeds? Without going to other books, 
think of scripture history which excels all other books because 
it has divine authority. If we decide that condemnation is a 
certain indication of evil-doing, what an evil opinion we must 
adopt of the apostles and martyrs, for they were all thought 
worthy of condemnation for their faith. If whatever is con- 
demned is evil, it was evil in those days to believe in Christ and 
to confess the Christian faith. But if everything is not evil which 
is condemned you must find another reason for teaching that 
adultery is evil. Ev. — I have no reply to make. 

8. Aug. — Possibly the evil thing in adultery is lust. So long as 
you look for the evil in the outward act you discover difficulties. 
But when you understand that the evil lies in lust it becomes 
clear that even if a man finds no opportunity to lie with the 
wife of another but shows that he desires to do so and would do 
it if he got the chance, he is no less guilty than if he were caught 
in the act. Ev . — Nothing is more manifest; and I now see that 
there is no need of lengthy argument to persuade me that the 
same is true of homicide, sacrilege and all other sins. For it is 
clear that lust alone dominates the whole realm of evil-doing. 

iv, 9. Aug.— You know that lust is also called cupidity? 
Ev. — I do. Aug. — Do you think there is or is not a difference 
between cupidity and fear? Ev. — Indeed there is a great differ- 
ence between them. Aug. — I suppose you think so because 
cupidity longs for its object while fear avoids its object. Ev . — 
That is so. Aug. — What if some one kills a man from no desire to 
get possession of anything but from fear of suffering some evil 
at his hands? In that case he will not be a homicide? Ev. — He 



ON FREE WILL 


117 

will indeed. Even such a deed is not without a trace of cupidity. 
He who kills a man from fear desires to live without fear. Aug . — 
And it is no small good to live without fear? Ev . — It is a great 
good, but the homicide cannot attain it by his crime. Aug . — I 
am not seeking what he can attain, but what he desires. Cer- 
tainly he desires a good thing who desires a life free from fear, 
and so far his desire is not to be blamed. Otherwise we shall be 
blaming all lovers of good things. So we are compelled to admit 
that there can be homicide in which the dominance of evil 
cupidity is not to be found; and it will consequently be false to 
say that it is the dominance of lust which makes all sins evil. 
In other words there can be homicide which is not a sin. Ev . — If 
to kill a man is homicide it can sometimes be done without sin. 
When a soldier kills an enemy, or when a judge or an officer of 
the law puts a criminal to death, or when a weapon slips out of 
someone’s hand without his will or knowledge, the killing of a 
man does not seem to me to be a sin. Aug .— I agree, but these 
are not usually called homicides. But tell me this. A slave kills 
his master because he feared he would be terribly tortured by 
him. Do you think he would have to be regarded as one of 
those who are not to be classed as homicides because they have 
killed a man? Ev . — His is a very different case from theirs. They 
act in accordance with the laws, or not contrary to the laws, but 
no law approves his deed. 

10. Aug . — -You are reverting again to authority. You must 
remember that we have undertaken to try to understand what 
we believe. We believe the laws and must accordingly try if we 
can to understand whether the law which punishes this deed 
does not wrongly punish. Ev . — It does not punish wrongly when 
it punishes a man who willingly and knowingly slays his master. 
None of these other cases we have mentioned is similar. Aug . — 
You remember you recently said that in every evil deed lust 
prevailed, and that for that very reason it was evil? Ev. — Cer- 
tainly I remember. Aug . — Did you not also admit that he who 
desires to live without fear has no evil cupidity? Ev . — That too 
I remember. Aug . — When our slave kills his master from that 
motive he does so without any culpable cupidity. So we have 
not discovered why the deed was evil. We have agreed that all 
evil deeds are evil for no other reason than that they are com- 
mitted from lust, that is, wrongful cupidity. Ev . — Now it seems 
I must admit that he is unjustly condemned. But I should not 
dare to say so if I had any other answer to give. Aug . — You are 
persuaded that so great a crime ought to go unpunished before 



1 1 8 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

you consider whether the slave desired to be free of fear of his 
master in order to satisfy his own lusts? To desire to live without 
fear is characteristic of all men, not only of the good but also of 
the bad. But there is this difference. The good seek it by 
diverting their love from things which cannot be had without 
the risk of losing them. The bad are anxious to enjoy these 
things with security and try to remove hindrances so as to live a 
wicked and criminal life which is better called death. Ev . — r I 
am recovering my wits. Now I am glad to have learned what 
culpable cupidity is, which we also call lust. Evidently it is love 
of things which one may lose against one’s will. 

v, 1 1 . Let us now inquire, if you please, whether lust prevails 
in sacrilegious acts, many of which we see committed through 
superstition. Aug . — Perhaps that would be too hasty. I think 
we ought first to discuss whether an attacking enemy or an 
armed lier-in-wait can be slain in defence of life or liberty or 
chastity, without any lust. Ev . — How can I possibly think that 
men are void of lust who fight for things which they can lose 
against their will? If they cannot lose them, what need is there 
to go so far as to kill a man on their account? Aug . — Then the 
law is not just which gives the traveller authority to kill a 
brigand lest he should himself be killed by him. Or the law that 
allows any man or woman to slay, if he can, any one who comes 
with intent to ravish, even before the crime has been committed. 
The law also bids the soldier to slay the enemy. If he abstains 
from killing he is punished by the general. Shall we dare to say 
that these laws are unjust or rather null and void? For a law 
that is unjust does not seem to me to be a law at all. 

12. Ev . — It is, however, evident that this law is well prepared 
against such an accusation, for in the state where it is in force it 
allows lesser evil deeds to prevent worse being committed. It is 
much more suitable that the man who attacks the life of another 
should be slain than he who defends his own life; and it is 
much more cruel that a man should suffer violation than that 
the violator should be slain by his intended victim. In killing 
an enemy the soldier is a servant of the law and can easily avoid 
lust in performing his duty. Further, a law passed to guard the 
people cannot be accused of lust. The proposer of the law, if he 
did so at the command of God, that is, at the command of 
eternal justice, could do it without the slightest trace of lust. If, 
however, he did act from some motive of lust it does not follow 
that his law is obeyed from lust. A good law can be passed by 
one who is not himself good. For the sake of argument, suppose 



ON FREE WILL 


I 19 

a man has obtained tyrannical power and is prepared to make 
money by it. Suppose he accepts a bribe to bring in a law mak- 
ing it unlawful for anyone to force a woman to become his wife. 
The law will not be a bad law simply because the man who laid 
it down was unjust and corrupt. So the law which demands that 
hostile force be repelled by force for the purpose of protecting 
the citizens can be obeyed without lust. And the same may be 
said of all officials who are lawfully and in an orderly fashion 
subject to the powers that be. And yet I do not quite see how, 
even if the law is blameless, those who obey it can be blameless. 
For the law does not compel them to kill but leaves the decision 
to do so in their discretion. They are free not to kill anyone for 
the sake of things which they can lose against their will, and 
therefore ought not to love. In matters affecting life it may be 
doubtful whether the soul is or is not destroyed when the body 
is slain. If it can be destroyed, it is a thing of no consequence. If 
it cannot be destroyed there is no occasion for fear. In the matter 
of chastity, who doubts that virtue has its seat in the soul itself, 
and cannot be snatched away by any violent violator? All that 
he would have robbed us of, had he not been slain, was outwith 
our jurisdiction, so that I cannot see how it can be said to have 
been ours. Therefore I do not find fault with the law which 
permits such to be slain, but I do not know how to defend those 
who use the permissive power to kill. 

13. Aug . — Much less do I know why you should seek a de- 
fence for men whom no law charges with guilt. Ev . — None of 
the actual laws, perhaps, which are found in human statute- 
books. But I am not sure whether men are not bound by some 
more strict and secret law, at any rate if divine providence ad- 
ministers all things without exception. How before that law are 
those free from sin who are polluted by human bloodshed on 
account of things which they ought to despise? Mind you, I 
think that positive law, designed to rule a people, rightly per- 
mits these things and vindicates divine providence. The law of 
the state takes upon itself to vindicate all that conduces to 
peaceful relations between simple folk as far as it can be regu- 
lated by man. Beyond that, sins have other suitable penalties 
from which, it seems to me, wisdom alone can set us free. 
Aug . — I approve and applaud your distinction. No doubt it is 
incomplete and far from perfect, and yet it shows faith and high 
idealism. You think that positive law which is passed to rule 
states makes many concessions and leaves many things un- 
punished which divine providence punishes. And this is right, 



120 AUGUSTINE.* EARLIER WRITINGS 

for what it does is not to be disapproved simply on the ground 
that it does not accomplish everything. 

vi, 14. But let us examine closely, if you please, how far evil 
deeds are to be punished by the law which governs states 
in this life. Then we shall consider what remains to be in- 
evitably and secretly punished by divine providence. Ev. — That 
is my wish, if only it is possible to reach the end of so vast a 
theme. I think it is infinite. Aug . — Be brave and enter on the 
path of reason trusting in piety. There is nothing so hard and 
difficult which with God’s help will not become plain and easy. 
Depending on God and praying for his help, let us persevere in 
our inquiry. And first tell me whether the law that is promul- 
gated in writing brings aid to men while they live this life. 
Ev . — Manifestly, for states and nations are composed of these 
men. Aug. — Do men and peoples belong to the class of things 
which cannot perish or change but are altogether eternal? Or 
are they mutable and subject to time’s changes? Ev. — Who can 
doubt that this class of things is mutable and liable to the 
changes of time? Aug. — If a people, then, is well balanced and 
serious-minded, a careful guardian of the common good; if 
everyone in it thinks less of his private interests than of the pub- 
lic interest, it would be right to pass a law allowing that people 
to appoint its own magistrates to administer its affairs, that is, 
its public affairs? Ev. — Quite right. Aug . — Now if that same 
people degenerated little by little, put private interests before 
the public interest, sold its votes and, corrupted by men who 
love honours, committed rule over itself to wicked and criminal 
men, in such a case, if there existed some good and powerful 
man, would he not be right to strip that people of the power 
to bestow honours, and to give that power into the hands of 
a few good men or even of one man? Ev. — Again entirely right. 
Aug. — These two laws are exactly contrary the one to the other. 
The one gives to the people the power to bestow honours; the 
other takes it away. The second was passed under such condi- 
tions that both could not exist simultaneously in one state. 
Shall we say, then, that one of them is unjust and ought not to 
have been passed? Ev. — By no means. Aug. — Let us, then, if 
you please, call that a temporal law, which, though it be just, 
may be justly changed to suit altered circumstances. Ev. — Let us 
so call it. 

15. Aug. — What about that law which is called supreme 
reason, which must always be obeyed, by which the evil de- 
serve an unhappy life and the good a blessed life, by which the 



ON FREE WILL 


1 2 1 


law we have agreed to call temporal is rightly laid down and 
rightly changed? Can any intelligent person not see that it is 
unchangeable and eternal? Can it ever be unjust that the evil 
should be unhappy and the good happy? Or that a good and 
serious-minded people should appoint its own magistrates, and 
that a dissolute and worthless people should be deprived of that 
liberty. Ev . — I see that that is an eternal and unchangeable law. 
Aug . — I am sure you see also that there is nothing just or legiti- 
mate in temporal law save what men have derived from the 
eternal law. For if the people we have been speaking of at one 
time bestowed honours justly and at another time unjustly, the 
change in question belongs to the temporal sphere, but the 
judgment as to justice or injustice is derived from the eternal 
sphere in which it is abidingly just that a serious-minded people 
should bestow honours, and a fickle people should not. Don’t 
you agree? Ev . — I do. Aug . — Briefly to express in words as 
best I can the idea of eternal law as it is stamped upon our 
minds I should say this: it is just that all things should be in per- 
fect order. If you have any other view, tell me. Ev . — What you 
say is true and I have nothing to urge against it. Aug.— Since, 
then, there is one law, of which all temporal laws by which men 
are ruled are variants, that one law surely cannot vary in the 
least degree? Ev . — I know that is absolutely impossible. No 
force, no accident, no corruption of things can ever bring it 
about that justice ceases to mean that all things should be in 
perfect order. 

vii, 1 6. Aug . — Now let us see what it means to say of a man 
that he is perfectly in order, for a people is composed of men 
associated under one law, a temporal law, as we have said. Tell 
me whether you are quite certain that you are alive. Ev . — To 
no question can I give a more unhesitating reply in the 
affirmative. Aug . — Can you distinguish living from knowing 
that you live? Ev . — I know that no one can know he is alive un- 
less he is alive. But I do not know whether everyone who is 
alive knows it. Aug . — How I wish you would believe it. Then 
you would know that beasts lack reason, and our disputation 
would speedily pass on from that question. But since you say 
you do not know, you necessitate a long disquisition. So im- 
portant is the question and so closely knit the argument re- 
quired, that we cannot leave it aside and go on to our goal. We 
often see beasts tamed by men, not only their bodies but also 
their souls, so that they are subject to men’s wills at a touch and 
by force of custom. Do you think that any beast however fierce 



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or huge or keen of sense could ever try in the same way to sub- 
jugate a man to its service, though many beasts could destroy 
man’s body by violence or in some secret way? Ev. — I agree, 
that could not happen. Aug . — Very well. Since it is obvious 
that man is far surpassed by many beasts in strength and in 
other bodily functions, tell me how it is that man excels so that 
no beast can order him about as he orders many of them. Is it 
because he has what we usually call reason or intelligence? Ev . — 
I can think of nothing else. That whereby we excel the beasts 
must be something in the soul, since to have a living soul would 
make us excel dead beasts. They too are living creatures 
(animals), but there is something lacking in their souls which 
allows them to be subjected by us, and there is something in our 
souls that makes us better than they. Now no one can imagine 
that that is a trifle, and I know no more correct word for it than 
reason. Aug . — You see how easy a problem becomes if God 
grant his aid, even a problem which men think most difficult. 
I confess I thought that the question which we have settled, as 
I understand, would have kept us as long, perhaps, as all the 
other questions we have handled since our conversation began. 
Now notice how relevant reason is to our argument. I am sure 
you know that when we say: “we know,” we mean simply that 
we have grasped something by reason. Ev. — That is so. Aug . — 
So he who knows he is alive has reason. Ev. — That follows. 
Aug. — Beasts are alive, but, as we have shown, have no part in 
reason. Ev. — Clearly. Aug. — So now you know what you said 
you did not know. Not everything which lives knows that it 
lives, although everything that knows it lives is necessarily a 
living thing. 

17. Ev. — I have no further doubts. Go on as you have pro- 
posed. I have clearly learned that to live is one thing, and to 
know that one lives another thing altogether. Aug. — Which of 
the two do you think is the better? Ev. — Why of course to know 
that one lives. Aug. — Do you think it is better to know that one 
lives than to have life? But perhaps you understand knowledge 
to be a superior and purer form of life which none can know 
unless he has intelligence. For what is to have intelligence but 
to live more intensely and more perfectly in the very light of 
the mind? So, unless I am mistaken, you have not preferred 
something else to life, but have preferred a better life to any 
kind of commonplace life. Ev. — You have exactly understood 
and expounded my views, that is, if knowledge can never be a 
bad thing. Aug. — It never can, unless by knowledge we mean 



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knowledge gained by experience. Experience is not always a 
good thing, for we can experience punishments. But knowledge 
strictly and purely so called, because it is gained by reason and 
intelligence, cannot be evil. Ev . — I grasp that difference too. 
Go on to the next subject. 

viii, 18. Aug . — This is what I want to say. Whatever it is 
that puts man above the beasts, mind or spirit (perhaps it is 
best called by both names, for we find both in the divine Scrip- 
tures), whatever it is called, if it dominates and rules the other 
parts of which man is composed, then a man is most perfectly 
ordered. We see that we have many things in common not only 
with the beasts but also with plants and trees. For we see that 
trees also have power to take nourishment, to grow, to repro- 
duce themselves, to flourish, and yet they have the lowest form 
of life. And we observe that animals can see, hear, smell, taste 
and feel corporeal objects, many of them more keenly than we 
can. Add strength, vigour and firmness of limb, speed and easy 
motion of the body. In all these things we surpass some of them, 
are the equals of others, and are surpassed by not a few. We 
also have with the animals a common attitude to external 
things. To seek bodily pleasures and to avoid pain is the whole 
endeavour of animal life. There are some things which do not 
seem to occur in animals yet they do not belong to the higher 
part of human nature, such as jesting and laughing. Whoever 
judges rightly of human nature will hold these to be human 
qualities certainly, but to belong to the lower part of man. Then 
there is love of praise and glory, and ambition to dominate. 
These are not characteristic of beasts, and yet we must not 
think we are better than the beasts because we have these de- 
sires. For when such desires are not subject to reason they make 
us miserable. No man has ever thought that his superiority con- 
sists in a capacity for greater unhappiness. When reason rules 
these emotions, a man must be said to be well ordered. There 
is no right order, indeed there is no order at all, where the better 
is subordinated to the worse. Don’t you agree? Ev . — Un- 
doubtedly. Aug . — When reason or mind or spirit rules the 
irrational emotions, then the part dominates in a man which 
ought to dominate according to what we have discovered to be 
eternal law. Ev . — I see and I follow. 

ix, 19. Aug . — When a man is so constituted and ordered, 
don’t you think he is wise? Ev . — I know of no other whom I 
could think wise if not such a man. Aug . — I suppose you know 
that most men are foolish. Ev. — That, too, I know well. Aug . — 



124 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

If the fool is the opposite of the wise man, now that we know 
who the wise man is, you also know who the fool is. Ev. — Evi- 
dently he is the man in whom mind has not the chief power. 
Aug . — What are we to say, then, when a man is in that condi- 
tion? Does he lack mind? or does the mind he has fail to control? 
Ev . — The latter rather, I think. Aug . — I should very much like 
to know what signs indicate that a man has mind even when it 
does not exercise its leadership. Ev . — I wish you would answer 
your own question for it is not easy for me to play the part you 
are forcing on me. Aug . — At least it is easy for you to remember 
what you said a moment ago. Beasts are made tame and gentle 
by men and so come to serve them. Men might suffer this in 
their turn, as the argument showed, if they were not somehow 
superior to beasts. That superiority we did not find in their 
bodies. Because it was something evidently to do with their 
souls, we found no other name for it than reason, recognizing that 
it might also be called mind or spirit. If reason and mind are 
different things we at least agree that only mind can make use 
of reason. Hence it is concluded that he who has reason cannot 
lack mind. Ev . — Yes I remember that. Aug . — Do you believe 
that the tamers of beasts must be wise men? I mean by wise men 
those whom truth bids us call such, that is, those in whom mind 
rules and all lust is subdued, and who therefore are at peace with 
themselves. Ev . — It is ridiculous to give that name to men who 
are vulgarly known as beast-tamers or shepherds or ploughmen 
or charioteers, whose work it is to tame wild animals and to 
make use of them when they are tamed. Aug. — There, then, 
you have a clear indication of the presence of mind in a man 
even when it does not rule. There is mind in the men you have 
mentioned, for they do things that could not be done without 
mind. But mind does not rule, for they are still fools; and we 
know that there is no reign of mind except in wise men. Ev . — It 
is surprising that we had proved this so easily, and yet I could 
not think what to answer. 

x, 20. But now let us go on to a further stage in the discus- 
sion. We have now found that human wisdom is the rule of the 
human mind, but that there may be mind where it does not 
rule. Aug . — Do you think that lust is more powerful than mind, 
though we know that, by the eternal law, to mind is given rule 
over the lusts? I cannot believe it in the least. For it is not con- 
sistent with good order that the weaker should rule the stronger. 
I think that mind must necessarily be more powerful than 
cupidity simply because it is right and just that cupidity should 



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be subject. Ev. — I think so too. Aug . — Are we to be in any doubt 
that virtue is absolutely superior to vice, in the sense that it is 
as much superior in strength and power as it is in goodness and 
sublimity? Ev . — Who could entertain any doubt? Aug. — Then 
no vicious soul can overcome a soul armed with virtue? Ev . — 
Most true. Aug . — I do not think you will deny that any kind of 
soul is better and more powerful than every body. Ev. — No one 
would deny it who sees, as one easily may, that a living being 
is to be preferred to what is not living, and that that which gives 
life is to be preferred to that which receives life. Aug. — Much 
less does a body, whatever its quality, surpass a soul endowed 
with virtue. Ev. — It is self-evident. Aug. — Surely a just soul, or 
a mind that keeps its proper jurisdiction and rule, cannot cast 
down and subject to lust another mind that rules with equal 
justice and virtue? Ev. — By no means, not only because there 
is the same excellence in each, but also because it must first 
have fallen away from justice and become a vitiated mind if it 
attempts to make another mind vicious. For that very reason it 
will be weaker. 

21. Aug. — You have perfectly understood the point. It re- 
mains for you to tell me if you can, whether you think there is 
anything more excellent than a wise and rational mind. Ev. — 
Nothing I think, save God. Aug. — That is also my opinion. 
But seeing that that is a difficult question and cannot now be 
suitably discussed so that we may understand it though we hold 
it most firmly by faith, let us complete a diligent and careful 
treatment of the question we have on hand just now. 

xi. At present we can be sure that whatever it be that may 
rightly excel a mind strong in virtue, it cannot be unjust in 
any way. So that not even it, though it have the power, will 
compel a mind to serve lust. Ev. — There is no one who will not 
admit that without any hesitation. Aug. — So we are left with 
the conclusion that whatever is equal or superior to a ruling 
mind possessing virtue cannot make it serve lust because of 
its just character. And whatever is inferior cannot do it by 
reason of its weakness. So our argument teaches us: Nothing 
makes the mind a companion of cupidity, except its own will 
and free choice. Ev. — I see that is our necessary conclusion. 

22. Aug. — The next step is that you must come to see that the 
soul justly pays the penalty for its sin. Ev — I cannot deny that. 
Aug. — What then? Is it to be regarded as in itself a small penalty 
that the soul is dominated by lust, spoiled of its resources of 
virtue, drawn hither and thither in abject poverty, now approving 



126 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

falsehood as if it were truth, now acting on the defensive, 
now rejecting what it had formerly approved but none the less 
falling into other falsehoods, now holding its assent back, and 
often fearing the most obvious reasonings, now despairing of 
ever finding the truth and sticking in the dark pit of folly, now 
attempting to reach the light of intelligence, and again falling 
back in sheer weariness? Meantime the cupidities exercise their 
dominion tyrannically and disturb the man’s whole mind and 
life with varying and contrary tempests, fear on one side, long- 
ing on the other; here anxiety, there vain and false rejoicing; 
here torture because something loved has been lost, there eager- 
ness to obtain what it does not possess; here grief for injury 
suffered, there incitements to seek revenge. Wherever it turns 
it can be restricted by avarice, wasted by luxury, bound by 
ambition, inflated by pride, tortured by envy, enveloped in 
sloth, excited by wantonness, afflicted by subjection, suffering all 
the other countless emotions which inhabit and trouble the 
realm of lust. Can we think that a condition like that is not 
penal, when we see that it must be undergone by all who do not 
cleave to wisdom? 

22. Ev . — I think it is indeed a terrible penalty and an alto- 
gether just one, if anybody placed on the height of wisdom 
should choose to descend and become a servant to lust. But I 
am not sure whether it is actually within the power of any one 
who wants or is determined to do it. We believe that man has 
been created perfect by God and has been allotted a happy life 
so that it is by his own will that he has fallen to the miserable 
condition of this mortal life. But, though I firmly believe this, I 
have not yet grasped it with the intelligence. If you think that 
diligent inquiry into this question must be postponed, you do so 
against my will. 

xii, 24. But what worries me most is why we have to suffer 
such bitter penalties, we who certainly are foolish and were 
never wise. How can we be said to deserve to suffer these things 
as if we had deserted the fortress of virtue and chosen servitude 
to lust? I should never consent to your postponing the attempt 
to discuss and solve this problem as far as you can. Aug . — You 
say that as if it were crystal-clear that we never have been wise. 
You are thinking only of the time since we were born into this 
life. Wisdom is a thing which exists in the soul, but whether the 
soul lived some kind of life before its association with the body, 
and whether it then lived with wisdom is a big question, a 
great mystery, to be considered in the proper place. But the 



ON FREE WILL I2J 

question we now have on hand does not prevent us from seeking 
an answer to it as far as that is possible. 

25. Let me ask you: have we a will? Ev. — I do not know. 
Aug . — Do you want to know? Ev. — Again I do not know. 
Aug . — Then do not ask me any more questions. Ev.— Why? 
Aug. — Because I ought not to answer your questions unless you 
want to know what you ask. Furthermore, if you do not wish to 
reach wisdom I ought not to hold conversation with you on 
matters of this kind. Finally you cannot be my friend unless you 
desire my good. So far as you are concerned yourself, you will 
have to see whether you have a will to the happy life for your- 
self. Ev. — I agree it is impossible to deny that we have will. Go 
on and let us see what conclusion you draw from this. Aug. — So 
I shall. But first tell me whether you are conscious of having a 
good will. Ev.— What is a good will? Aug . — A will to live rightly 
and honourably and to reach the highest wisdom. Just see 
whether you do not desire to live a right and honourable life, 
whether you do not eagerly desire to be wise, or whether at 
least you would venture to deny that when we wish such things 
we have a good will. Ev. — I deny none of these things, and 
accordingly admit that I have not only a will but also a good 
will. Aug. — What value, pray, do you set on such a will? Gould 
you think that riches or honours or bodily pleasures or all these 
together are to be compared with it? Ev. — God avert such 
wicked madness! Aug. — Are we, then, to rejoice a little in having 
something in our souls, I mean a good will, by comparison with 
which all those things we have mentioned are worthless, al- 
though we see that the mass of men refuse no toils and no 
dangers in order to obtain them? Ev. — We should rejoice 
exceedingly. Aug. — Do you think that those who do not have 
the joy of possessing so great a good suffer only a small loss? 
Ev. — Nay, a great loss. 

26. Aug. — You see, then, I imagine, that it is in the power of 
our will to enjoy or to be without so great and so true a good. 
For what is so completely within the power of the will as the 
will itself? Whoever has a good will has something which is far 
better than all earthly realms and all bodily pleasures. Whoever 
does not have it, lacks that which is more excellent than all the 
goods which are not in our power, and yet he can have it by 
willing it simply. He will probably judge himself to be most 
miserable if he loses glory, fame or immense riches, or other 
bodily goods. But won’t you think him most miserable even if he 
have abundance of all these things, if he cleaves to things which 



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he can easily lose and cannot have simply by willing, and lacks 
the good will which is incomparably better than these things, 
and, though it is so great a good, can yet be had simply by 
willing? Ev . — Quite true. Aug . — Rightly, therefore, and de- 
servedly foolish men, though they never were wise — and this is 
doubtful and quite beyond our knowing — suffer this kind of 
misery. Ev . — I agree. 

xiii, 27. Aug . — Now consider whether you think prudence 
is the knowledge of what is to be sought and avoided. Ev. — I do. 
Aug. — And fortitude is the disposition of soul which enables us 
to despise all inconveniences and the loss of things not in our 
power? Ev. — That is my opinion. Aug. — And temperance is a 
disposition that restrains our desires for things which it is base 
to desire. Don’t you agree? Ev. — I think exactly as you say. 
Aug. — And what shall we say justice is? Is it not the virtue that 
gives to each his own? Ev. — I have no other notion of justice. 
Aug. — We have spoken much of the excellence of the good will. 
Whoever has the good will, and embraces it with all the love he 
is capable of, delights himself in it, enjoys it and rejoices in it, 
knowing how great a good it is, and that it can never be 
snatched or stolen from him against his will — can we doubt that 
such a man will resist all that is inimical to this one good? Ev . — 
He will offer all resistance. Aug. — Can we think that a man 
has not prudence who sees that this good is to be sought and 
those things avoided which are inimical to it? Ev . — No one, I 
think could do so without prudence. Aug. — Quite right. But 
why should we not also attribute fortitude to him? He cannot 
love and set great store by things which are not in his power. 
The evil will loves these things, and he must necessarily resist it 
as the enemy of his dearest good. He does not love them nor 
grieve when he loses them but contemns them all; and this we 
have agreed is the function of fortitude. Ev . — Let us indeed 
attribute this virtue to him. I know of no one to whom I may 
more truly attribute courage than the man who can with a 
calm and tranquil mind bear the loss of things which it is not 
in his power either to obtain or to keep. This we have found he 
necessarily does. Aug. — Can we refuse to allow that he has 
temperance, since that is the virtue which restrains lusts? What 
is more hostile to the good will than lust? Hence you can under- 
stand that the lover of the good will resists and opposes lusts in 
every way, and so is rightly called temperate. Ev. — Go on, for 
I agree. Aug. — There remains justice, but I do not see how it 
can be lacking in such a man. He who has and loves the good 



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129 

will, and resists what is hostile to it, cannot will any evil to any- 
body. It follows that he injures nobody, which must mean 
simply that he gives to everyone his due. This, I said, was the 
function of justice, and I dare say you remember you agreed. 
Ev. — I remember. And I agree that we have shown that the 
four virtues which you described with my consent are found in 
the man who loves his good will and values it highly. 

28. Aug. — Is there any reason why we should not allow that 
such a man’s life is laudable? Ev. — No reason at all. Every- 
thing encourages us or even compels us to do so. Aug. — Can you 
by any means suppose that the unhappy life is not to be 
avoided? Ev. — Most certainly it must be avoided. That I hold 
to be our first duty. Aug . — And, of course, what is laudable is 
not to be avoided. Ev. — No indeed. It is to be most carefully 
sought after. Aug. — The laudable life therefore is not unhappy. 
Ev. — That follows. Aug. — You will have no difficulty now in 
admitting that a life which is not unhappy is the happy life. 
Ev. — Clearly. Aug . — We agree, then, that the man is happy 
who loves the will and in comparison with it scorns everything 
else that is called good, which can be lost even when the will to 
retain it remains. Ev. — We must agree since this is the necessary 
conclusion from our argument. Aug. — You are perfectly right. 
But tell me, to love the good will and to hold it in high esteem, 
is that not simply to have a good will? Ev. — True. Aug.— If we 
are right in judging this man happy, must we not rightly judge 
him unhappy who has a different kind of will? Ev . — Quite 
correct. Aug . — Why, then should we think it doubtful, even if 
we have never been wise formerly, that by the exercise of will 
we deserve and live either a laudable and happy life or a base 
and unhappy one? Ev. — I agree that we have reached this result 
by arguments that are certain and undeniable. 

29. Aug. — Take this further question. I believe you remember 
how we defined the good will. It was the power by which we 
seek to live rightly and honourably. Ev. — I remember. Aug. — If 
we love and embrace this good will and prefer it to all the 
things which we cannot retain by willing, those virtues, as we 
have learned by our argument, which together constitute right 
and honourable living, dwell in our souls. Hence it follows that 
whoever wishes to live rightly and honourably, if he prefers that 
before all fugitive and transient goods, attains his object with 
perfect ease. In order to attain it he has to do nothing but to 
will it. Ev. — Truly I can hardly refrain from shouting for joy, 
when I find I can so quickly and so easily obtain so great a good. 

A.E.W. — 9 



130 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

Aug . — This very joy which comes from attaining this good, 
especially when it keeps the mind calm and tranquil and stable, 
is what we call the happy life — unless you think that to live 
happily is something else than to rejoice in good things that are 
both true and certain. Ev . — That is what I think. 

xiv, 30. Aug . — Very well. But do you think there is a single 
man who does not in every possible way will and choose the 
happy life? Ev . — Who doubts that that is what every man 
wishes? Aug. — Why, then, do not all obtain it? We agreed that 
men by the use they make of their wills deserve either a happy 
or an unhappy life, and receive what they deserve. But now 
some opposition has arisen which, unless we examine it closely, 
threatens to throw our previous argument into confusion, 
though we thought it strong and carefully constructed. How 
has anyone to endure an unhappy life because of the use he has 
made of his will, when no one at all wills to live unhappily? Or 
how does any man attain by the use of his will a happy life, 
seeing that all wish to be happy and so many are unhappy? Is 
it because there are two different kinds of willing, a good and a 
bad? Or is there a difference between deserving by using a good 
will and deserving by using a bad will? For those who are happy 
— and they must also be good — are not happy simply because 
they wish to live happily. The bad also have the same wish. 
They are happy because they live rightly, which the bad do not 
wish to do. It is not surprising that unhappy men do not obtain 
what they wish, that is, a happy life. For they do not at the 
same time wish its accompaniment, without which no one is 
worthy of it, and no one obtains it, that is to say a righteous 
life. The eternal law, to the consideration of which we must now 
return, has established firmly and unchangeably that merit 
accrues from willing, and that happiness is the reward of good- 
ness and unhappiness the punishment of badness. So when we 
say that men are unhappy voluntarily, we do not mean that 
they want to be unhappy, but that their wills are in such a state 
that unhappiness must follow even against their will. So it is not 
inconsistent with our previous reasoning that all men wish to be 
happy but cannot be; for all do not wish to live aright, and it is 
that wish that merits the happy life. Have you anything to say 
against that? Ev . — I have nothing. 

xv, 31. But let us see how all this applies to the question 
raised concerning the two laws. Aug . — Let us do so. But first 
tell me whether he who loves to live aright and delights in it so 
that he finds it not merely right but also sweet and pleasant so 



ON FREE WILL 


131 

to live, will love and cherish the law which he knows awards 
the happy life to the good will, and an unhappy life to the 
evil will? Ev. — He will be entirely devoted to it for he directs 
his life according to its terms. Aug. — In loving it, does he love 
something changeable and temporal or something stable and 
eternal? Ev. — Something certainly eternal and unchangeable. 
Aug. — Those who continue in an evil will no less desire to be 
happy. But can they love the law which deservedly allots un- 
happiness to such people? Ev. — I should think not at all. Aug . — 
Do they love anything else? Ev. — Yes indeed, many other things. 
They love the things which the evil will steadfastly seeks to ob- 
tain and keep. Aug. — I suppose you mean wealth, honours, 
pleasures, bodily beauty, and all the other things which it is 
possible not to obtain though they are desired, and which may 
be lost against one’s will. Ev. — These are the things I mean. 
Aug, — You do not imagine these things are eternal since you 
see they are involved in the flux of time. Ev. — It would be utter 
madness to imagine that. Aug. — It is, therefore, manifest that 
some men ate lovers of eternal things, others of temporal things, 
and we have agreed that there are two laws, one eternal and the 
other temporal. Now assuming that you have a sense of justice, 
which of these two classes of men would you hold was obedient 
to the eternal law, and which to the temporal law? Ev. — The 
answer is obvious, I think. Those who are happy on account of 
their love of eternal things I hold act under obedience to the 
eternal law, while on unhappy men the temporal law is im- 
posed. Aug. — You are perfectly right, so long as you hold firmly 
what reason has clearly demonstrated, that those who serve the 
temporal law cannot be set free from subjection to the eternal 
law. For from the eternal law are derived all just laws even 
when they are variable according to circumstances, as we have 
said. But those who with a good will cleave to the eternal law do 
not need the temporal law, as apparently you well understand. 
Ev.— I see your point. 

32. Aug. — The eternal law bids us turn our love away from 
temporal things, to cleanse it and turn it towards eternal things. 
Ev. — It does. Aug. — What, then, does the temporal law bid us 
do? Is it not that men may possess the things which may be 
called “ours” for a season and which they eagerly covet, on 
condition that peace and human society be preserved so far as 
they can be preserved in earthly things? These are, first, the 
body and bodily goods, such as good health, keenness of the 
senses, strength, beauty, and anything else that may be necessary 



132 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

for the good arts of life, which are to be more highly valued 
than those which are of less value and importance. Next comes 
liberty. Of course there is no true liberty except the liberty of 
the happy who cleave to the eternal law. But for the moment I 
mean the liberty which people think they enjoy when they have 
no human masters, and which slaves desire who wish to be 
manumitted by their human masters. Then, parents, brothers, 
wife, children, kinsfolk near and remote, friends, and any others 
who may be attached to us by any bond. Then our citizenship, 
which is usually reckoned from the home of our parents, to- 
gether with honours and praise and popular glory, as it is 
called. Finally there is money, which in one word covers all that 
we lawfully possess and which we have the right to dispose of by 
sale or gift. To explain how in all these matters the law dis- 
tributes to each his due would be difficult and would take a long 
time, but clearly it is not necessary to our purpose. It is suffi- 
cient to see that the authority of this law in punishing does not 
go beyond depriving him who is punished of these things or of 
some of them. It employs fear as an instrument of coercion, and 
bends to its own ends the minds of the unhappy people to rule 
whom it is adapted. So long as they fear to lose these earthly 
goods they observe in using them a certain moderation suited to 
maintain in being a city such as can be composed of such men. 
The sin of loving these things is not punished; what is punished 
is the wrong done to others when their rights are infringed. Have 
we not accomplished a task which you thought would be in- 
finite? For we set out to inquire how far the law which governs 
earthly peoples and cities may rightly punish. Ev . — I see we 
have accomplished our task. 

33. Aug . — You see also that there would be no punishment 
inflicted on men either by injury done them or by legal sentence 
if they did not love the things that can be taken from them 
against their will. Ev . — I see that. Aug . — Some use these things 
badly, some use them well. He who uses them badly is he who 
lovingly cleaves to them and is completely involved in them. He 
subjects himself to things which he ought to make subject to 
himself, and sets before himself as his chief goods those things 
which he ought to subordinate and handle properly and so be- 
come good himself. He who uses them aright shows that they 
are good but not in themselves. They do not make him good or 
better, but are made good by the use he puts them to. He is not 
attached to them by love, making them parts of his soul, as is 
done by loving them, lest when they begin to be taken from 



ON FREE WILL 


133 

him he suffer torture and decay. He wholly transcends them, 
and is prepared to possess and regulate them when necessary, 
but is even better prepared to lose them and be without them. 
Since this is so, you will not blame gold and silver because 
there are avaricious people, or food because there are gluttons, 
or wine because there are drunkards, or female beauty because 
there are fornicators and adulterers, and so on. After all you 
can see that a doctor may make a good use of fire, and a poisoner 
may make a wicked use of bread. Ev . — Very true. The things 
are not to be blamed, but the men who make a bad use of them. 

xvi, 34. Aug .- — Quite right. We begin to see now, I think, 
the force of the eternal law; and how far the temporal law can 
go in punishing we have also discovered. We have made a 
sufficiently clear distinction between two classes of things, the 
eternal and the temporal, and between two classes of men, 
those who love and pursue eternal things and those who pursue 
temporal things. What each one chooses to pursue and embrace 
is within the power of his will to determine. Will alone can drive 
the mind from its seat of authority and from the right course. 
And it is manifest that when anyone uses anything badly it is 
not the thing but the man who uses it badly that is to be blamed. 
Now if you please, let us refer back to the question proposed at 
the beginning of this conversation, and see whether it has been 
answered. We set out to inquire what doing evil means, and all 
we have subsequently said has a bearing on this. Now we may 
give our minds to consider whether doing evil is anything else 
than to neglect eternal things which the mind itself perceives 
and enjoys and loves and cannot lose, and to pursue, as if they 
were great and wonderful, temporal things which are per- 
ceived by the body, the lowest part of human nature, and can 
never be possessed with complete certainty. For in this class, it 
seems to me, all evil deeds, that is sins, are to be included. I am 
waiting for you to tell me what you think. 

35. Ev . — It is as you say. I agree that all sins are included in 
this one class, viz. turning away from things which are divine and 
truly abiding, and turning to things which are changeable and 
uncertain. They are right enough in their own place, and have 
a certain beauty of their own. But it is the mark of a perverse 
and disordered mind to pursue them to the point of becoming 
subject to them. For rightly by divine ordinance the mind is 
set over them and ought to bear absolute rule over them. At the 
same time, it seems to me, our other question has been fully 
answered. For after asking what doing evil means, we set out to 



AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


134 

inquire what was the cause of evil-doing. Unless I am mistaken, 
reason has demonstrated that we do it by the free choice of our 
will. But I ask now whether our Maker ought to have given us 
free will seeing it is proved to be the source of our capacity to 
sin. If we had not had it, apparently we should not have sinned. 
It is to be feared that in this way God may be held to be the 
author of our ill-doing. Aug . — Have no fear of that. But another 
time must be found to go into the question thoroughly. An end 
must now be put to this conversation in which I hope you 
realize that we have knocked at the door of some important and 
recondite matters of inquiry. When we begin to enter their in- 
most chambers, with God’s aid, you will certainly be able to 
judge how great a difference there is between this disputation 
and those which are to follow, and how much superior they are, 
not only in the sagacity required for their investigation, but 
also in the majesty of the subjects and the bright light of truth. 
Only let piety attend us, that by divine providence we may be 
permitted to hold to and complete the course on which we have 
set out. Ev . — I accept your decision, and to it and to your 
prayer I most willingly add my own. 

Book II 

i, 1 . Evodius . — Now explain to me, if it can be done, why God 
has given man free choice in willing, for if he had not received 
that freedom he would not have been able to sin. Augustine . — 
You hold it to be certainly known that it is God who has given 
man this power which you think ought not to have been given. 
Ev . — My impression is that we learned in the earlier book both 
that we have free will, and that our sinning is due to it. Aug . — I 
too remember that that became manifest to us. But now my 
question was whether you know that God gave us this power 
which we clearly have and which is the cause of our sinning. 
Ev . — No one else could have done so, I think. For we derive our 
origin from him, and from him we merit punishment or reward 
according as we sin or act rightly. Aug . — Here is another thing 
I desire to know. Do you know this quite distinctly, or do 
you merely believe it, without knowing it, because you allow 
yourself to be influenced by authority? Ev . — Undoubtedly I 
was first brought to believe this on the ground of authority. But 
what can be more true than to say that every good thing is from 
God, that justice is entirely good, and that it is just that sinners 
should be punished and well-doers rewarded. Hence it follows 



ON FREE WILL 135 

that it is by God that sinners are made unhappy and well-doers 
happy. 

2. Aug . — I am not objecting; but I ask the question: how do 
you know that we derive our origin from God? You have not 
explained this though you have explained how we merit punish- 
ment or reward at his hand. Ev . — If it is accepted that God 
punishes sins, as it must be if it is true that all justice has its 
source in him, this alone would prove that we derive our origin 
from him. No doubt it is the characteristic of goodness to confer 
benefits on strangers, but it is not similarly the mark of justice 
to punish sins in those who are not under its immediate juris- 
diction. Hence it is clear that we belong to him because he is 
not only most kind in conferring benefits upon us, but also most 
just in his punishments. Moreover, from the statement I made 
and you accepted, that every good thing comes from God, it can 
be known that man also comes from God. For man, in so far 
as he is man, is good because he can live aright if he chooses 
to do so. 

3. Aug . — Clearly if this is so, the problem you have posed is 
solved. If man is good, and if he would not be able to act 
rightly except by willing to do so, he ought to have free will 
because without it he would not be able to act rightly. Because 
he also sins through having free will, we are not to believe that 
God gave it to him for that purpose. It is, therefore, a sufficient 
reason why he ought to have been given it, that without it man 
could not live aright. That it was given for this purpose can be 
understood from this fact. If any one uses his free will in order to 
sin, God punishes him. That would be unjust unless the will 
was free not only to live aright but also to sin. How could he be 
justly punished who uses his will for the purpose for which it 
was given? Now when God punishes a sinner what else do you 
suppose he will say to him than “Why did you not use your free 
will for the purpose for which I gave it to you, that is, in order 
to do right?” Justice is praised as a good thing because it con- 
demns sins and honours righteous actions. How could that be 
done if man had not free will? An action would be neither sinful 
nor righteous unless it were done voluntarily. For the same 
reason both punishment and reward would be unjust, if man 
did not have free will. But in punishing and in rewarding there 
must have been justice since justice is one of the good things 
which come from God. God, therefore, must have given and 
ought to have given man free will. 

ii, 4,, Ev . — I admit now that God has given us free will. But 



136 Augustine: earlier writings 

don’t you think, pray, that, if it was given for the purpose of 
well-doing, it ought not to have been possible to convert it to 
sinful uses? Justice itself was given to man so that he might live 
rightly, and it is not possible for anyone to live an evil life by 
means of justice. So no one ought to be able to sin voluntarily if 
free will was given that we might live aright. Aug . — God will, 
I hope, give me ability to answer you, or rather will give you 
the ability to answer your own question. Truth, which is the 
best master of all, will inwardly teach us both alike. But I wish 
you would tell me this: I asked you whether you know with 
perfect certainty that God has given us free will and you replied 
that you did. Now if we allow that God gave it, ought we to say 
that he ought not to have given it? If it is uncertain whether he 
gave it, we rightly ask whether it was good that it was given. 
If then we find that it was good, we find also that it was given 
by him who bestows all good things on men. If, however, we 
find that it was not a good thing we know that it was not given 
by him whom it is impious to accuse. If it is certain that he has 
given it, we ought to confess that, however it was given, it was 
rightly given. We may not say that it ought not to have been 
given or that it ought to have been given in some other way. If 
he has given it his action cannot in any way be rightly blamed. 

5. Ev . — I believe all that unshakably. Nevertheless, because 
I do not know it, let us inquire as if it were all uncertain. I see 
that because it is uncertain whether free will was given that men 
might do right since by it we can also sin, another uncertainty 
arises, namely whether free will ought to have been given to us. 
If it is uncertain that it was given that we should act righteously, 
it is also uncertain that it ought to have been given at all. Hence 
it will also be uncertain whether it was God who gave it. If it 
is uncertain that it ought to have been given, it is uncertain 
that it was given by him whom it is impious to believe has given 
anything which ought not to have been given. Aug . — At any 
rate you are quite certain that God exists. Ev . — I firmly believe 
it, but I do not know it. Aug . — We read in Scripture: “The fool 
hath said in his heart: there is no God” (Ps. 52:18). If such a 
fool were to say to you there is no God, and would not believe 
as you do, but wanted to know whether what you believe is 
true, would you simply go away and leave him, or would you 
think it your duty somehow to try to persuade him that what 
you believe is true, especially if he were really eager to know 
and not merely to argue obstinately? Ev. — Your last proviso 
tells me what I ought to reply to him. However absurd he might 



ON FREE WILL 


*37 

be he would assuredly agree that: one ought not to dispute with 
an insidious and obstinate opponent about anything at all, 
least of all about a matter so important. He would admit that, 
and try to get me to believe that his inquiry was made in all 
good faith, and that in this matter there was neither guile nor 
obstinacy in him. Then I would use an argument that ought to 
carry great weight with any fair-minded person. I should show 
him that, just as he wants his neighbour to believe him when he 
tells of the thoughts of his mind, which he of course knows, but 
which are quite concealed from his neighbour, so he ought to 
believe that God exists because that is taught in the books of 
great men who have left their testimony in writing that they 
lived with the Son of God, and because they have written that 
they saw things which could not have happened if there were 
no God. I should urge that he would be very foolish to blame 
me for believing them, when he wanted me to believe himself. 
And when he saw that he had no good ground for finding fault 
with me, he would find no reason for refusing to imitate my 
faith. Aug . — If you think the existence of God is sufficiently 
proved by the fact that we judge it not to be rash to believe the 
Scripture-writers, why don’t you think we should similarly 
trust their authority in the matters we have begun to investigate 
as if they were uncertain or quite beyond our knowledge? So we 
should be spared much labour in investigation. Ev. — Yes. But 
we want to know and to understand what we believe. 

6. Aug . — You remember the position we adopted at the 
beginning of our former discussion. We cannot deny that be- 
lieving and knowing are different things, and that in matters 
of great importance, pertaining to divinity, we must first believe 
before we seek to know. Otherwise the words of the prophet 
would be vain, where he says: “Except ye believe ye shall not 
understand” (Isa. 7:9. LXX). Our Lord himself, both in his 
words and by his deeds, exhorted those whom he called to salva- 
tion first of all to believe. When he afterwards spoke of the gift 
that was to be given to believers he said, not: “This is life eternal 
that they may believe”; but: “This is life eternal that they may 
know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou 
hast sent” (John 17:3). To those who already believed he said: 
“Seek and ye shall find” (Matt. 7:7). He cannot be said to have 
found, who merely believes what he does not know. And no one 
is fit to find God, who does not first believe what he will after- 
wards learn to know. Wherefore, in obedience to the precepts 
of the Lord, let us press on in our inquiry. What we seek at his 



I38 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

bidding we shall find, as far as that can be done in this life, and 
by people such as we are. And he himself will demonstrate it 
to us. We must believe that these things are perceived and 
possessed by people of superior character even while they dwell 
on earth, and certainly, more clearly and perfectly, by all the 
good and pious after this life. So we must hope it will be with 
us, and, despising earthly and human things, we must in every 
way desire and love heavenly things. 

iii, 7. Let us discuss these three questions, if you please, and 
in this order. First, how it is manifest that God exists. Secondly, 
whether all good things, in so far as they are good, are from him. 
Lastly, whether free will is to be counted among the good things. 
When these questions have been answered it will, I think, be 
evident whether free will has been rightly given to man. First, 
then, to begin with what is most obvious, I ask you: “Do you 
exist?” Are you perhaps afraid to be deceived by that question? 
But if you did not exist it would be impossible for you to be de- 
ceived. Ev. — Proceed to your other questions. Aug . — Since it 
is manifest that you exist and that you could not know it unless 
you were living, it is also manifest that you live. You know these 
two things are absolutely true. Ev. — I do. Aug. — Therefore this 
third fact is likewise manifest, namely, that you have intelli- 
gence. Ev. — Clearly. Aug. — Of these three things which is most 
excellent? Ev. — Intelligence. Aug. — Why do you think so? Ev . — 
To exist, to live and to know are three things. A stone exists but 
does not live. An animal lives but has not intelligence. But he 
who has intelligence most certainly both exists and lives. Hence 
I do not hesitate to judge that that is more excellent, which has 
all these qualities, than that in which one or both of them is 
absent. That which lives, thereby exists, but it does not follow 
that it has also intelligence. That is a life like that of an animal. 
That which exists does not necessarily have either life or intelli- 
gence. Dead bodies must be said to exist but cannot be said to 
live. Much less can that which has not life have intelligence. 
Aug. — We gather, therefore, that of these three things a dead 
body lacks two, an animal one, and man none. Ev. — That is 
true. Aug. — And of these three things that is most excellent 
which man has along with the other two, that is intelligence. 
Having that, it follows that he has both being and life. Ev. — I am 
sure of that. 

8. Aug. — Tell me now whether you know that you have these 
common bodily senses — seeing, hearing, smelling, taste, touch. 
Ev.~Yes I know. Aug. — What do you think belongs to the sense 

A.E.W. IO 



ON FREE WILL 


139 

of sight, that is, what do we sense by seeing? Ev. — Corporeal 
objects. Aug. — Do we perceive hardness and softness by seeing? 
Ev. — No. Aug. — What then belongs properly to the function of 
the eyes to perceive? Ev. — Colour. Aug. — And to the ears? 
Ev. — Sound. Aug. — And to the sense of smell? Ev. — Odour. 
Aug. — To the sense of taste? Ev. — Taste. Aug. — To the sense of 
touch? Ev. — The soft and the hard, the smooth and the rough, 
and many such things. Aug. — The forms of corporeal objects, 
great and small, square and round, and such like qualities we 
perceive both by sight and touch, and so they cannot be 
ascribed solely to either sight or touch, but to both. Ev. — I 
understand. Aug. — You understand, then, that some things 
belong to one particular sense whose function it is to convey 
information about them, while other things belong in this way 
to several senses? Ev. — That also I understand. Aug. — Can we 
by any of the senses decide what belongs to any particular 
sense, or what belongs to all or several of them together? Ev. — 
By no means. That has to be decided by something else within 
us. Aug. — Perhaps that would be reason, which the beasts lack? 
For, I suppose, it is by reason that we comprehend sense-data 
and know that they are as they are. Ev. — Rather I think that by 
reason we comprehend that there is a kind of interior sense to 
which the ordinary senses refer everything. For in the case of the 
beast the sense of sight is a different thing from the sense to shun 
or to seek the things it sees. The former belongs to the eyes, 
the latter is within the soul itself. For of the things they see 
or hear or perceive with the other bodily senses, some the 
animals seek with pleasure and accept, others they avoid as 
displeasing, and refuse to take. This sense can be called neither 
sight nor hearing nor smell nor taste nor touch, but must be 
some other sense which presides over all the others alike. While 
we comprehend this by reason, as I said, still we cannot call it 
reason, since clearly the beasts have it too. 

9. Aug. — I recognize that there is that faculty and I do not 
hesitate to call it the interior sense. But unless the information 
conveyed to us by the bodily senses goes beyond that sense it 
cannot become knowledge. What we know we comprehend by 
reason. We know that colours are not perceived by hearing nor 
voices by seeing, to mention these only. When we know this it 
is not by means of the eyes or the ears or by that interior sense 
which the beasts also possess. We cannot believe that they know 
that light is not perceived by the ears nor voices by the eyes, 
for we do not discern these things without rational observation 



140 AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 

and thought. Ev . — I cannot say that I quite see that. Suppose 
they do distinguish by the interior sense which you admit the 
animals have, and realize that colours cannot be perceived by 
hearing nor voices by seeing? Aug. — You do not suppose that 
they can distinguish between the colour that is seen, the sense 
that is in the eyes, the interior sense that is in the soul, and the 
reason by which all these things are defined and enumerated? 
Ev. — Not at all. Aug. — Could reason distinguish these four 
things and define their limits unless the notion of colour were 
conveyed to it in these various stages. First the sense of sight in 
the eyes would report to the interior sense which presides over 
all the external senses, and it would then report direct to reason, 
that is to say, if there is no intermediate stage. Ev. — I see no 
other way. Aug. — The sense of sight perceives colour but is itself 
perceived by no other sense. Do you see that? You do not see 
sight with the same sense as you see colour. Ev. — Certainly not. 
Aug. — Try to distinguish these two things; for I suppose you do 
not deny that colour is one thing, and to see colour is another 
entirely different thing. Moreover, it is another different thing 
to have the sense that enables us to see colour as if it were before 
us, even when in actual fact there is no colour before us. Ev . — I 
distinguish these things and admit that they are all different. 
Aug. — Well take these three things. Do you see anything with 
the eyes except colour? Ev. — Nothing else. Aug. — Tell me, then, 
how you see the other two things, for you cannot distinguish 
between them if you have not seen them. Ev. — I know no way. 
I know it is so, that is all. Aug. — So you do not know whether it is 
by reason or by what we call the interior sense which presides 
over the bodily senses, or by something else? Ev. — I do not 
know. Aug. — And yet you know that they can be defined only 
by reason, and that reason could not do this unless sense-data 
were offered for its examination. Ev. — That is certain. Aug . — 
Then all in the act of knowing which does not come from sense- 
perception is provided by reason, to which are reported and 
referred all external circumstances. And so sense-data can be 
accepted, but strictly within their own limits, and can be com- 
prehended not by sense only but also by knowledge. Ev. — That 
is so. Aug. — Reason distinguishes the senses which are its ser- 
vants from the data they collect. Likewise it knows the differ- 
ence between the senses and itself, and is sure that it is much 
more powerful than they. Does reason comprehend reason by 
any other means than by reason itself? Would you know that 
you possess reason otherwise than by reason? Ev. — Surely not. 



ON FREE WILL 


141 

Aug . — When we see a colour we do not, with the sense of sight, 
see that we see; when we hear a sound, we do not hear our 
hearing; when we smell a rose we do not smell our smelling; 
when we taste anything we do not taste taste in our mouths; and 
when we touch anything we cannot touch the sense of touch. 
It is clear, therefore, that none of the five senses can perceive 
itself, though all in their several ways perceive corporeal ob- 
jects. Ed . — That is quite clear. 

iv, 10. Aug . — I think it is also clear that the interior sense 
perceives not only the data passed on to it by the five senses, but 
also perceives the senses too. A beast would not make the move- 
ment necessary for seeking or avoiding anything unless it was 
conscious of perceiving, which of course it could not be by using 
the five senses only. I do not suggest that this consciousness in 
the beast is a step towards knowledge, for that belongs to 
reason, simply that it is a prerequisite of movement. If there is 
still some obscurity here an example will elucidate the point. 
It will be enough to consider the case of one of the senses, say 
sight. A beast would be quite unable to open its eyes and direct 
them towards an object it desired to see unless it perceived that 
it could not see the object so long as its eyes were closed and not 
directed to the object. If it is conscious of not seeing when it 
does not see, it must also be conscious of seeing when it does 
see. The fact that when it sees an object it does not make the 
movement that would be necessary to bring it into view indicates 
that it perceives that it sees or does not see. But it is not so clear 
whether a beast has self-consciousness, as well as consciousness, 
of perceiving corporeal objects. Possibly it has an inward feeling 
that every living thing shuns death which is the opposite of life. 
If so, every living thing which shuns the opposite of life must be 
conscious of itself as living. But if that is not clear let us omit it, 
and not strive to establish our position with proofs that are not 
both certain and self-evident. What is evident is this: corporeal 
objects are perceived by bodily sense; no bodily sense can per- 
ceive itself; the interior sense can perceive both corporeal ob- 
jects perceived by a bodily sense, and also that bodily sense 
itself; but reason knows all these things and knows itself, and 
therefore has knowledge in the strict sense of the term. Don’t 
you think so? Ev . — I do indeed. Aug. — Come, then, what about 
the question the answer to which we desired to reach? To reach 
that answer we have taken all this time and trouble in preparing 
the way. 

v, 11. Ev . — So far as I remember, of the three questions we 



142 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

formulated to give the discussion some order, we are now en- 
gaged with the first, namely, How is it to be made evident that 
God exists, a proposition which is most firmly to be accepted in 
faith. Aug. — You are quite right. But I want you to keep firm 
hold of this too. When I asked you whether you know that you 
exist, it appeared that you know not only this but two other things 
as well. Ev. — I remember that too. Aug . — Now to which of the 
three do you understand all that impinges on the bodily senses 
to pertain? I mean, in which class of things would you put all 
that we perceive by means of the eyes or any other bodily 
organ? Would you say that all this belongs to the class that 
merely exists, or to that which also has life, or to that which has 
intelligence as well? Ev. — In that which merely exists. Aug . — 
And where would you put the senses? Ev. — In that which has 
life. Aug. — And which do you judge to be superior, the senses or 
their objects? Ev. — The senses surely. Aug. — Why? Ev. — Because 
that which has life is superior to what merely exists. 

12. Aug. — What about the interior sense, which we have dis- 
covered to be inferior to reason, and possessed by us in common 
with the beasts? Do you have any hesitation in putting it 
higher than the senses by means of which we come into contact 
with corporeal objects, and which you have said are to be 
reckoned superior to corporeal objects? Ev. — I should have no 
hesitation. Aug. — I should like to know why not. You cannot 
say that the interior sense is to be placed in the category of 
intelligent things, for it is found in beasts which have no intelli- 
gence. This being so, I ask why you put the interior sense higher 
than the senses which perceive corporeal objects, since both 
belong to the class of things that have life. You put the bodily 
senses above corporeal objects just because they belong to the 
kind of things which merely exist, while it belongs to the kind 
which also live. So also does the interior sense. Tell me, then, 
why you think it superior. If you say it is because the interior 
sense perceives the other senses, I do not believe you will be 
able to find a rule by which we can establish that every per- 
ceiving thing is superior to what it perceives. That would mean 
that we should be compelled to say that every intelligence is 
superior to that which it knows. But that is false; for man knows 
wisdom but is not superior to wisdom. Wherefore consider for 
what reason you think that the interior sense is superior to the 
senses by which we perceive corporeal objects. Ev. — It is be- 
cause I recognize that it is in some kind of way a ruler and 
judge among the other senses. If they failed in their duty it 



ON FREE WILL 


143 

would be like a master demanding a debt from a servant, as we 
just recently were saying. The eye cannot see whether it has 
vision or not and therefore it cannot judge where it is defective 
or where it is sufficient. That is what the interior sense does, as 
when it teaches a beast to open its eyes and supply what it per- 
ceives is lacking. No one doubts that he who judges is superior 
to that over which he exercises judgment. Aug . — You observe, 
then, that a bodily sense also judges in a manner corporeal ob- 
jects? Pleasure and pain fall within its jurisdiction, when the 
body is affected gently or harshly. Just as the interior sense 
judges whether the sight of the eyes is defective or adequate, so 
sight judges what is defective or adequate in colours. Just as the 
interior sense judges of our hearing whether it is sufficient or 
defective, so the sense of hearing judges voices, whether they 
flow smoothly or are noisily harsh. We need not go over the 
other senses. You observe already, I think, what I wish to say. 
The interior sense judges the bodily senses, approving their 
integrity and demanding that they do their duty, just as the 
bodily senses judge corporeal obj ects approving of gentleness and 
reproving the opposite. Ev .- — I see that and agree that it is true. 

vi, 13. Aug .- — Now consider whether reason also judges of 
the interior sense. I am not asking whether you have any doubts 
as to its superiority, for I have no doubt that you judge it to be 
superior. Nor perhaps is it worth inquiring whether reason 
judges of the interior sense. For about those things which are 
inferior to reason, that is, about corporeal objects, bodily senses 
and the interior sense, reason alone tells us how one is superior 
to another and how reason is more excellent than them all. 
How could it do so if it were not a judge over them? Ev . — That 
is obvious. Aug . — A nature which not only exists but also lives, 
like that of the beast, though it have not intelligence, is higher 
than a nature which merely exists and has no life, like an 
inanimate object. And higher still is a nature which exists and 
lives and has intelligence, like the rational mind in man. Surely 
you do not think that in us, that is, in a complete human nature, 
anything can be found more excellent than that which we have 
put third among these three levels of being? Obviously we have 
a body, and life which animates the body. These two things we 
recognize that beasts also have. But there is a third thing, the 
head, as it were, or the eye of our soul, or whatever else more 
fitly describes reason and intelligence, which beasts do not have. 
Can you, I pray, find anything in human nature higher than 
reason? Ev . — I see nothing at all that could be superior. 



144 Augustine: earlier writings 

14. Aug. — If, now, we could find something which you could 
unhesitatingly recognize not only as existing but also as superior 
to our reason, would you have any hesitation in calling it, what- 
ever it may be, God? Ev . — Well, I should not without hesitation 
give the name, God, to anything that I might find better than 
the best element in my natural composition. I do not wish to 
say simply that God is that to which my reason is inferior, but 
that above which there is no superior. Aug . — Clearly so, for it 
is God who has given to your reason to have these true and 
pious views of him. But, I ask, supposing you find nothing 
superior to our reason save what is eternal and unchangeable, 
will you hesitate to call that God? You realize that bodies are 
mutable; and it is evident that life which animates the body is 
not without mutability by reason of its varying affections. Even 
reason is proved to be mutable, for sometimes it strives to reach 
the truth and sometimes it does not so strive. Sometimes it 
reaches the truth and sometimes it does not. If without the aid 
of any bodily organ, neither by touch nor by taste nor by smell, 
neither by the ears nor the eyes, but by itself alone reason 
catches sight of that which is eternal and unchangeable, it must 
confess its own inferiority, and that the eternal and unchange- 
able is its God. Ev . — This I will certainly confess to be God than 
whom there is nothing superior. Aug . — Very well. It will be 
enough for me to show that there is something of this nature 
which you will be ready to confess to be God; or if there be 
something higher still that at least you will allow to be God. 
However that may be, it will be evident that God exists when 
with his aid I have demonstrated to you, as I promised, that there 
is something above reason. Ev . — Then proceed with your 
demonstration as you promise. 

vii, 15. Aug . — I shall do so. But I first ask you this. Is my 
bodily sense identical with yours, or is mine mine and yours 
yours only? If the latter were not the case I should not be able to 
see anything with my eyes which you also would not see. Ev . — I 
admit that at once, though while each of us has severally the 
senses of sight, hearing and the rest, your senses and mine belong 
to the same class of things. For one man can both see and hear 
what another does not see or hear, and with any of the other 
senses can perceive what another does not perceive. Hence it is 
evident that your sense is yours alone and mine mine alone. 
Aug . — Will you make the same reply about the interior sense? 
Ev. — Exactly. My interior sense perceives my perceiving, and 
yours perceives yours. Often someone who sees something will 



ON FREE WILL 


145 

ask me whether I also see it. The reason for asking simply is that 
I know whether I see or not, and the questioner does not know. 
Aug . — Has each of us, then, his own particular reason? For it 
can often happen that I know something when you do not know 
it, and I know that I know it, but you cannot know that. Ev . — 
Apparently each of us has his own private rational mind. 

16. Aug . — But you cannot say that each of us has his own 
private sun or moon or stars or the like, though each of us sees 
these things with his own particular sense of sight? Ev. — No, of 
course I would not say that. Aug. — So, many of us can see one 
thing simultaneously, though our senses, by which we perceive 
the object we all see together, are our own. In spite of the fact 
that my sense and yours are two different things, what we 
actually see need not be two different things, one of which I see, 
while you see the other. There is one object for both of us, and 
both of us see it simultaneously. Ev. — Obviously. Aug . — We can 
also hear one voice simultaneously, so that, though my hearing 
is not your hearing, there are not two voices of which you hear 
one and I another. It is not as if my hearing caught one part of 
the sound and yours another. The one sound, and the whole of 
it, is heard by both of us simultaneously. Ev. — That, too, is 
obvious. 

17. Aug . — But notice, please, what is to be said about the 
other senses. It is pertinent to the present discussion to observe 
that the case with them is not quite the same as with sight and 
hearing, though it is not entirely different. You and I can 
breathe the same air and feel its effects by smelling. Likewise 
we can both partake of one piece of honey, or some other food 
or drink, and feel its effects by tasting. That is to say, there is 
one object, but we each have our own senses. You have yours 
and I have mine. So while we both sense one odour and one 
taste, you do not sense it with my sense nor I with yours, nor 
with any sense that we can have in common. My sense is 
entirely mine and yours yours, even though both of us sense the 
same odour or the same taste. In this way these senses some- 
what resemble sight and hearing. But there is this dissimilarity, 
which is pertinent to the present problem. We both breathe the 
same air with our nostrils, and taste one food. And yet I do not 
breathe in the same particles of air as you do, and I consume a 
different portion of food from that consumed by you. When I 
breathe I draw in as much air as is sufficient for me, and when 
you breathe you draw in as much as is sufficient for you, but 
both of us use different parts of air. If between us we consume 



146 augustine: earlier writings 

one food, the whole of it is not consumed either by you or by 
me, as we both hear the whole sound of a word spoken, or see 
the whole object offered to our sight simultaneously. One part 
of a drink must pass into your mouth and another into mine. 
Do you understand? Ev . — I admit that is all clear and certain. 

18. Aug . — Do you think the sense of touch is comparable to 
the senses of sight and hearing in the fashion we are now dis- 
cussing? Not only can we both feel one body by touching it, but 
we can both feel not only the same body but the same part of it. 
It is not as in the case of food where both of us cannot consume 
the whole of it when we both eat it. You can touch what I touch 
and touch the whole of it. We do not touch each one a different 
part but each of us touches the whole. Ev . — So far, I admit that 
the sense of touch resembles the first two senses, sight and 
hearing. But I see there is this difference. We can both simul- 
taneously at one and the same time see or hear the whole of 
what is seen or heard. No doubt we can both touch simul- 
taneously the whole of one object, but in any one moment we 
can only touch different parts. The same part we can only 
touch at different times. I cannot touch the part you are touch- 
ing unless you move away your hand. 

19. Aug . — You are most vigilant. But here is another thing 
you ought to notice, since there are some things which both of 
us can feel, and others which we must feel severally. Our own 
senses, for example, we must feel each for himself. I cannot feel 
your sense nor you mine. But in the case of corporeal things, 
that is, things we perceive with the bodily senses, when we 
cannot both perceive them together but must do so severally, 
it is due to the fact that we make them completely ours by con- 
suming them and making them part of ourselves, like food and 
drink of which you cannot consume the same part as I do. It is 
true that nurses give infants food which they have chewed, but 
the part which has been squeezed out and been swallowed, can- 
not be recalled and used to feed the child. When the palate 
tastes something pleasant it claims a part, even if only a small 
part, which it cannot give up, and does with it what is con- 
sonant with corporeal nature. Were this not so no taste would 
remain in the mouth when what had been chewed was put out. 
The same can be said of the part of the air which we draw into 
our nostrils. You may breathe in some of the air which I 
breathe out, but you cannot breathe that part which has gone 
to nourish me, for I cannot breathe it out. Physicians sometimes 
bid us take medicine through our nostrils. I alone feel it when I 



ON FREE WILL 


147 

breathe it in and I cannot put it back again by breathing out, 
so that you may breathe it in and feel it. All sensible things, 
which we do not destroy and take into our systems when we 
sense them, we can perceive, both of us, ei ther at the same time 
or at different times, one after the other, in such a way that the 
whole or the part which I perceive can also be perceived by 
you. I mean such things as light or sound or bodily objects 
which we do not destroy when we use and perceive them. 
Ev .■ — I understand. Aug . — It is therefore evident that things 
which we perceive with the bodily senses without causing them 
to change are by nature quite different from our senses, and 
consequently are common to us both, because they are not con- 
verted and changed into something which is our peculiar and 
almost private property. Ev . — I agree. Aug . — By “our peculiar 
and private property” I mean that which belongs to each of us 
alone, which each of us perceives by himself alone, which is 
part of the natural being of each of us severally. By “common 
and almost public property” I mean that which is perceived 
by all sentient beings without its being thereby affected and 
changed. Ev .— That is so. 

viii, 20. Aug . — Now consider carefully, and tell me whether 
anything can be found which all reasoning beings can see in 
common, each with his own mind and reason; something which 
is present for all to see but which is not transformed like food 
and drink for the use of those for whom it is present; something 
which remains complete and unchanged, whether they see it 
or do not see it. Do you perhaps think there is nothing of that 
kind? Ev. — Indeed, I see many such, but it will be sufficient to 
mention one. The science of numbers is there for all reasoning 
persons, so that all calculators may try to learn it, each with his 
own reason and intelligence. One can do it easily, another with 
difficulty, another cannot do it at all. But the science itself 
remains the same for everybody who can learn it, nor is it con- 
verted into something consumed like food by him who learns it. 
If anyone makes a mistake in numbers the science itself is not at 
fault. It remains true and entire. The error of the poor arith- 
metician is all the greater, the less he knows of the science. 

21. Aug . — Quite right. I see you are not untaught in these 
matters, and so have quickly found a reply. But suppose some- 
one said that numbers make their impression on our minds not 
in their own right but rather as images of visible things, springing 
from our contacts by bodily sense with corporeal objects, what 
would you reply? Would you agree? Ev . — I could never agree 



148 auoustine: earlier writings 

to that. Even if I did perceive numbers with the bodily senses I 
could not in the same way perceive their divisions and relations. 
By referring to these mental operations I show anyone to be 
wrong in his counting who gives a wrong answer when he adds 
or subtracts. Moreover, all that I contact with a bodily sense, 
such as this sky and this earth and whatever I perceive to be in 
them, I do not know how long it will last. But seven and three 
make ten not only now but always. In no circumstances have 
seven and three ever made anything else than ten, and they 
never will. So I maintain that the unchanging science of num- 
bers is common to me and to every reasoning being. 

22. Aug . — I do not deny that your reply is certainly most true. 
But you will easily see that numbers are not conveyed to us by 
our bodily senses if you consider that the value of every number 
is calculated according to the number of times it contains the 
number one. For example, twice one is called two; thrice one 
is called three; ten times one is called ten, and every number 
receives its name and its value according to the number of 
times it contains the number one. Whoever thinks with exacti- 
tude of unity will certainly discover that it cannot be perceived 
by the senses. Whatever comes into contact with a bodily sense 
is proved to be not one but many, for it is corporeal and there- 
fore has innumerable parts. I am not going to speak of parts so 
minute as to be almost unrealizable; but, however small the 
object may be, it has at least a right-hand part and a left-hand 
part, an upper and a lower part, a further and a nearer part, 
one part at the end and another at the middle. We must admit 
that these parts exist in any body however small, and accord- 
ingly we must agree that no corporeal object is a true and abso- 
lute unity. And yet all these parts could not be counted unless 
we had some notion of unity. When I am seeking unity in the 
corporeal realm and am at the same time certain that I have 
not found it, nevertheless I know what I am seeking and failing 
to find, and I know that I cannot find it, or rather that it does 
not exist among corporeal things. When I know that no body 
is a unity, I know what unity is. If I did not know what unity 
is, I could not count the plurality of parts in a body. However 
I have come to know unity, I have not learned it from the bodily 
senses, for by them I can know only corporeal objects, and none 
of them, as we have proved, is a true unity. Moreover, if we do 
not perceive unity with any bodily sense, neither do we per- 
ceive any number, of the kind at any rate which we discern 
with the intellect. For there is none of them which is not a 



ON FREE WILL 


149 

multiple of unity, and unity cannot be perceived by the bodily 
senses. The half of any body, however small, requires the other 
half to complete the whole, and it itself can be halved. A body 
can be divided into two parts but they are not simply two. 
[They may in turn be further sub-divided.] But the number two 
consists of twice simple unity, so that the half of two, that is, 
simple unity, cannot be sub-divided by two or three or any 
other number whatever, because it is true and simple unity. 

23. Following the order of the numbers we see that two comes 
next to one, and is found to be the double of one. The double of 
two does not immediately follow. Three comes first and then 
four, which is the double of two. Throughout the numerical 
series this order extends by a fixed and unchangeable law. 
After one, which is the first of all numbers, two follows immedi- 
ately, which is the double of one. After the second number, that 
is, two, in the second place in order comes the double of two. 
In the first place after two comes three and in the second place 
four, the double of two. After the third number, three, in the 
third place comes its double, for after three four comes first, 
five second, and in the third place six, which is the double of 
three. Similarly the fourth number after the fourth is its double; 
five, six, seven, and in the fourth place eight, which is the 
double of four. And throughout the numerical series you will 
find the same rule holds good from first to last. The double of 
any number is found to be exactly as far from that number as it 
is from, the beginning of the series. How do we find this change- 
less, firm and unbroken rule persisting throughout the numerical 
series? No bodily sense makes contact with all numbers, for they 
are innumerable. How do we know that this rule holds through- 
out? How can any phantasy or phantasm yield such certain 
truth about numbers which are innumerable? We must know 
this by the inner light, of which bodily sense knows nothing. 

24. By many such evidences all disputants to whom God has 
given ability and who are not clouded by obstinacy, are driven 
to admit that the science of numbers does not pertain to bodily 
sense, but stands sure and unchangeable, the common posses- 
sion of all reasoning beings. Many other things might occur to 
one that belong to thinkers as their common and, as it were, 
public property, things which each beholder sees with his own 
mind and reason, and which abide inviolate and unchangeable. 
But I am glad that the science of numbers most readily occurred 
to you when you had to answer my question. For it is not in 
vain that the holy books conjoin number and wisdom, where it 



AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


150 

is written, “I turned and [inclined] my heart to know and con- 
sider and seek wisdom and number’ ’ (Eccl. 7:25). 

ix, 25. Now, I ask, what are we to think of wisdom itself? Do 
you think that individual men have wisdoms of their own? Or 
is there one wisdom common to all, so that a man is wiser the 
more he participates in it? Ev . — I do not yet know what you 
mean by wisdom. I observe that men judge variously of what 
deeds or words are wise. Soldiers think they are acting wisely in 
following their profession. Those who despise military service 
and give all their care and labour to agriculture think them- 
selves wise. Those who leave all these things aside or reject all 
such temporal concerns and devote all their zeal to the search 
for truth, how they can know themselves and God, judge that 
this is the chief task of wisdom. Those who are unwilling to give 
themselves to the life of leisure for the purpose of seeking and 
contemplating truth, but prefer to accept laborious cares and 
duties in the service of their fellows and to take part in justly 
ruling and governing human affairs, they too think themselves 
to be wise. Moreover, those who do both of these things, who 
live partly in the contemplation of truth and partly in laborious 
duties, which they think they owe to human society, those think 
they hold the palm of wisdom. I do not mention the sects in- 
numerable, of which there is none which does not put its own 
members above all others and claim that they alone are wise. 
Since we are now carrying on this discussion on the under- 
standing that we are not to state what we merely believe but 
what we clearly understand, I can make no answer to your 
question, unless in addition to believing I also know by con- 
templation and reason what wisdom is. 

26. Aug . — Surely you do not suppose that wisdom is anything 
but the truth in which the chief good is beheld and possessed? 
All those people whom you have mentioned as following diverse 
pursuits seek good and shun evil, but they follow different pur- 
suits because they differ as to what they think to be good. 
Whoever seeks that which ought not to be sought, even though 
he would not seek it unless it seemed to him to be good, is never- 
theless in error. There can be no error when nothing is sought, 
or when that is sought which ought to be sought. In so far as all 
men seek the happy life they do not err. But in so far as anyone 
does not keep to the way that leads to the happy life, even 
though he professes to desire only to reach happiness, he is in 
error. Error arises when we follow something which does not 
lead to that which we wish to reach. The more a man errs in 



ON FREE WILL 


15* 

his way of life, the less is he wise, the further he is from the truth 
in which the chief good is beheld and possessed. Everyone is 
happy who attains the chief good, which indisputably is the 
end which we all desire. Just as it is universally agreed that we 
wish to be happy, it is similarly agreed that we wish to be wise, 
because no one is happy without wisdom. For no one is happy 
except by the possession of the chief good which is beheld and 
possessed in the truth which we call wisdom. Before we are 
happy the notion of happiness is stamped upon our minds; that 
is why we know and can say confidently without any hesitation 
that we want to be happy. Likewise, even before we are wise 
we have the notion of wisdom stamped upon our minds. For 
that reason each of us, if asked whether he wants to be wise, will, 
without any groping in the dark, answer that, of course, he does. 

27. Perhaps we are now agreed as to what wisdom is. You 
may not be able to express it in words, but if you had no notion 
in your mind of what it is you would not know that you want 
to be wise, and that you ought to want to be wise. That, I 
am sure you will not deny. Suppose, then, that we are agreed 
as to what wisdom is, please tell me whether you think that 
wisdom too, like the science of numbers, is common to all 
reasoning beings. Or, seeing that there are as many minds as 
there are men, and I cannot observe anything that goes on in 
your mind, nor you what goes on in mine, do you suppose that 
there sire as many wisdoms as there can be wise men? Ev . — If 
the chief good is one for all men, the truth in which it is seen 
and possessed, that is, wisdom, must be one and common to all. 
Aug . — Have you any doubt that the chief good, whatever it may 
be, is one for all men? Ev . — I certainly have, because I see that 
different men rejoice in different things as if they were their 
chief good. Aug . — I wish there were no more doubt about the 
nature of the chief good than there is about the fact that without 
it, whatever it may be, no one can become happy. But that is a 
big question and demands a long discourse, so let us suppose 
that there are just as many “chief goods” as there are different 
things sought by different people under the impression that 
they are “chief goods.” Surely it does not follow that wisdom is 
not one and common to all because the good things which men 
see in it and choose are manifold and diverse? If you think it 
does, you might as well doubt whether the light of the sun is one 
light because there are many diverse things which we see by 
means of it. Of these each one chooses at will something to enjoy 
looking at. One man likes to behold a high mountain and 



152 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

rejoices to look at it. Another prefers the plain, another a hollow 
valley, or green woods, or the wavy expanse of the sea. Some 
one may like all these or some of them whose united beauty 
contributes to the pleasure of looking at them. The things which 
men see by the light of the sun and choose for enjoyment are 
many and various, but the light is one in which each man sees 
what he enjoys looking at. So, although there are many diverse 
good things from among which each may choose what he likes, 
and seeing and possessing it and enjoying it, may rightly and 
truly constitute it his own chief good, nevertheless it may be 
that the light of wisdom in which these things can be seen and 
possessed is one light common to all wise men. Ev. — I admit it 
may be so, and that there is nothing to prevent there being one 
wisdom common to all, though there are many various chief 
goods. But I should like to know whether it is so. To admit that 
something may be is not exactly the same as to admit that it is. 
Aug. — Meantime we have established that there is such a thing 
as wisdom, but we have not yet determined whether it is one 
and common to all, or whether individual wise men have their 
particular wisdoms just as they have their particular souls or 
minds. Ev. — That is so. 

x, 28. Aug . — We hold it as settled that there is such a thing 
as wisdom, or at least that there are wise men, and also that all 
men want to be happy. But where do we see this? For I have no 
doubt at all that you see this and that it is true. Do you see this 
truth in such a way that I cannot know it unless you tell me 
what you think? Or could I see this truth, just as you under- 
stand it, even if you did not tell me? Ev. — I do not doubt that 
you too could see it even if I did not want you to. Aug. — Is not 
one truth which we both see with our different minds common 
to both of us? Ev. — Clearly. Aug. — Again, I believe you do not 
deny that men should strive after wisdom. You admit that that 
is true? Ev. — I have no doubt about that. Aug. — Here is another 
truth which is one and common to all who know it, though each 
one sees it with his own mind and not with mine or yours or 
any other man’s. Can we deny that, since what is seen can be 
seen in common by all who see it? Ev. — We cannot deny it. 
Aug. — Again, take such propositions as these: Man ought to 
live justly; the worse ought to be subjected to the better; like is 
to be compared with like; each man should be given his due. 
Don’t you admit that these statements are absolutely true and 
stable, to be shared by you and me and all who see them? Ev . — I 
agree. Aug . — The same would Be true of these statements: The 



ON FREE WILL 


153 

incorrupt is better than the corrupt, the eternal than the tem- 
poral, the inviolable than the violable? Ev. — Undeniably. 
Aug. — Could anyone claim truths of that kind as his own private 
truths, seeing they are unchangeably present for all to contem- 
plate who have the capacity to contemplate them? Ev. — No one 
could claim any one of them as his own, for not only are they 
true but they are equally common property to all. Aug. — And 
again, who denies that the soul ought to be turned from cor- 
ruption and converted to incorruption, in other words not 
corruption but incorruption ought to be loved? Who, confessing 
that that is true, does not also understand that it is unchangeably 
true and can be understood in common by all minds which 
have the capacity to understand it? Ev. — Most true. Aug. — Will 
anyone doubt that a life which no adversity can drive from a 
certain and honourable opinion is better than one which is 
easily broken and overwhelmed by temporal disadvantages? 
Ev. — Who can doubt it? 

29. Aug. — I shall ask no more questions of that kind. It is 
sufficient that you see as I do that these rules and guiding lights 
of the virtues, as we may call them, are true and unchangeable, 
and singly or all together they stand open for the common con- 
templation of those who have the capacity to behold them, each 
with his own mind and reason. This you admit is quite certain. 
But I do ask whether you think these truths belong to wisdom. 
For I am sure you think that he who has acquired wisdom is 
wise. Ev. — I most certainly do. Aug. — Could the man who lives 
justly so live unless he saw how to apply the principles of sub- 
ordinating the inferior to the superior, joining like to like, and 
giving to each his due? Ev. — He could not. Aug. — Would you 
deny that he who sees this sees wisely? Ev. — I would not. Aug. — • 
Does not he who lives prudently choose incorruption and per- 
ceive that it is preferable to corruption? Ev. — Clearly. Aug. — If 
he makes what no one doubts is the right choice as to the goal 
towards which he should direct his mind, can it be denied that 
he has made a wise choice? Ev.—I could not deny it. Aug. — - 
When he directs his mind to what he has wisely chosen, again 
he does it wisely? Ev. — Most certainly. Aug . — And if by no 
terrors or penalties can he be driven from what he has wisely 
chosen and towards which he has wisely directed his mind, 
again there is no doubt that he acts wisely? Ev.- — There is no 
doubt. Aug. — It is therefore abundantly evident that these rules 
and guiding lights of virtue, as we have called them, belong to 
wisdom. The more a man uses them in living his life, and the 



154 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

more closely he follows them, the more wisely does he live and 
act. Everything that is wisely done cannot rightly be said to be 
done apart from wisdom. Ev. — That is perfectly true. Aug . — 
Just as the rules of numbers are true and unchangeable, and the 
science of numbers is unchangeably available for all who can 
learn it, and is common to them all, so the rules of wisdom are 
true and unchangeable. When you were asked about them one 
by one you replied that they were true and evident and open to 
the common contemplation of all who have the capacity to 
examine them. 

xi, 30. j Ev. — I cannot doubt it. But I should very much like 
to know whether wisdom and numbers are contained within 
one class of things. You mentioned that they were linked to- 
gether in the Holy Scriptures. Or is one of them derived from 
the other or contained within the other? For example, is number 
derived from wisdom or is it contained in wisdom? I should not 
dare to suggest that wisdom is derived from number or is con- 
tained in it. For I know many arithmeticians or accountants, or 
whatever they are to be called, who count perfectly and indeed 
marvellously, but somehow very few of them have wisdom, 
perhaps none. So wisdom strikes me as being far more worthy 
of respect than arithmetic. Aug . — You mention a matter which 
has often made me wonder, too. When I consider in my mind 
the unchangeable science of numbers and the recondite sanc- 
tuary or region, or whatever other name we are to give to the 
realm and abode of numbers, I find myself far removed from 
the corporeal sphere. I find possibly some vague idea but no 
words adequate to express it, and so in order to say something 
I return wearily to these numbers which are set before our eyes 
and call them by their wonted names. The same thing happens 
when I am thinking as carefully and intently as I can about 
wisdom. And so I greatly marvel that though wisdom and 
number are alike in being mysteriously and certainly true, and 
are linked together by the testimony of Scripture which I have 
quoted, I say I marvel greatly that number is so contemptible 
to the majority of men, while wisdom is precious. To be sure it 
may be because they are one and the same thing. On the other 
hand it is also written in Scripture of Wisdom that “she reaches 
from one end of the world to the other with full strength and 
ordereth things graciously” (Wisdom 8:1). Perhaps it is called 
number from its potency to reach with strength from end to end, 
and is properly called wisdom because it graciously ordereth 
all things. For both are functions of wisdom alone. 



ON FREE WILL 


155 

31. Wisdom has given numbers even to the smallest and most 
remote of things, and all bodies have their own numbers. But 
it has not given to bodies the power to be wise, nor even to all 
souls, but only to rational souls, in which, as it were, it has taken 
up its abode from whence it ordereth all things, even the smal- 
lest to which it has given numbers. Now we have no difficulty 
in judging corporeal things as things which belong to a lower 
order, and the numbers they bear stamped upon them we see 
are also lower than we are. Therefore we hold them in con- 
tempt. But when we begin to consider them from another angle 
we discover that they transcend our minds and abide un- 
changeably in the truth. And because few can be wise and 
many fools can count, men admire wisdom and despise num- 
bers. But learned and studious men, the further they are 
removed from earthly corruption, behold the more clearly in 
the light of truth both numbers and wisdom, and hold both to 
be precious. By comparison with truth they prize neither gold 
nor silver nor the other things over which men strive, indeed 
they even come to think of themselves as of little account. 

32. There is no need to be surprised that men think little of 
numbers and value wisdom highly, because counting is easier 
than being wise. You see how they set a higher value on gold 
than on the light of a candle, compared with which gold is a 
ridiculous thing. But a vastly inferior thing is more highly 
honoured because any beggar can light himself a candle, and 
only a few possess gold. Far be it from me to suggest that com- 
pared with numbers wisdom is inferior. Both are the same 
thing, but wisdom requires an eye fit to see it. From one fire 
light and heat are felt as if they were “consubstantial,” so to 
speak. They cannot be separated one from the other. And yet 
the heat reaches those things which are brought near to the 
fire, while the light is diffused far and wide. So the potency of 
intellect which indwells wisdom causes things nearer to it to be 
warm, such as rational souls. Things further away, such as 
bodies, it does not affect with the warmth of wisdom, but it 
pours over them the light of numbers. Probably you will find 
that obscure, but no similitude drawn from visible things can 
be completely adapted to explain an invisible thing so as to be 
understood by everybody. Only take note of this which is suffi- 
cient for the problem we have in hand, and is clear enough to 
humbler kinds of mind such as ours. Though it cannot be made 
crystal-clear to us whether number is part of wisdom or is 
derived from wisdom or vice versa, or whether both names can 



156 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

be shown to designate one thing, it is at least evident that both 
are true and unchangeably true. 

xii, 33. Accordingly, you will never deny that there is an 
unchangeable truth which contains everything that is un- 
changeably true. You will never be able to say that it belongs 
particularly to you or to me or to any man, for it is available 
and offers itself to be shared by all who discern things immut- 
ably true, as if it were some strange mysterious and yet public 
light. Who would say that what is available to be shared by all 
reasoning and intelligent persons can be the private property of 
any of them? You remember, I dare say, our recent discussion 
about the bodily senses. Those things with which we both make 
contact by means of our eyes or ears, colours and sounds which 
you and I see or hear together, do not belong to our actual eyes 
or ears, but are common to both of us so that we may alike 
perceive them. So you would never say that those things which 
you and I behold in common, each with his own mind, belong 
to the actual mind of either of us. You would not say that what 
the eyes of two persons see belongs to the eyes of one or the other 
of them. It is a third thing towards which both direct their 
regard. Ev . — That is most clear and true. 

34. Aug . — Do you, then, think that this truth of which we 
have already spoken so much and in which we behold so many 
things, is more excellent than our minds, or equal to our minds, 
or inferior? If it were inferior we should not use it as a standard 
of judgment, but should rather pass judgment on it, as we do on 
bodies which are inferior to our minds. For of them we often 
say not only that it is so or is not so, but that it ought to be so or 
not so. Similarly with our minds we know not only that it is thus 
or thus, but often also that it ought to be thus or thus. We judge 
of bodies when we say this is not so white as it ought to be, or 
not so square and so on. Of minds we say this one is not so cap- 
able as it ought to be, or it is not gentle enough or eager enough, 
according to our moral standard. All these judgments we make 
according to those inward rules of truth, which we discern in 
common. But no man passes any judgment on these rules. One 
may say the eternal is superior to the temporal, or seven and 
three are ten, but no one says these things ought to be so. Knowing 
simply that they are so one does not examine them with a view 
to their correction but rejoices to have discovered them. If, 
then, truth were the equal of our minds, it too would be mut- 
able. Our minds sometimes see more sometimes less, and so 
confess their mutability. But truth abiding steadfast in itself 



ON FREE WILL 


157 

neither advances when we see more, nor falls short when we 
see less. Abiding whole and uncorrupt it rejoices with its light 
those who turn to it, and punishes with blindness those who 
turn from it. We pass judgment on our minds in accordance 
with truth as our standard, while we cannot in any way pass 
judgment on truth. For we say of our mind it understands less 
than it ought, or it understands exactly as it ought; and a mind 
approaches the proper standard of intelligence as it is brought 
nearer to unchangeable truth, and becomes able to cleave to it. 
Hence if truth is neither inferior to nor equal to our mind it 
must be superior and more excellent. 

xiii, 35. I promised, if you remember, to show you some- 
thing superior to the human mind and reason. There it is, truth 
itself. Embrace it if you can. Enjoy it. Delight in the Lord and 
he will grant you the petitions of your heart. What do you ask 
for more than to be happy? And what is more happy than to 
enjoy unshakable, unchangeable truth which is excellent above 
all things? Men exclaim that they are happy when they em- 
brace the beau tiful bodies, deeply longed for, of their wives or 
even of harlots, and shall we doubt that we are happy in the 
embrace of truth? Men exclaim that they are happy when with 
throats parched with heat they find a fountain flowing with 
pure water, or being hungry, find a copious meal all ready pre- 
pared, and shall we deny that we are happy when truth is our 
meat and drink? We are wont to hear the voices of people pro- 
claiming that they are happy if they lie among roses or other 
flowers and enjoy scented ointments, and shall we hesitate to 
call ourselves happy when we are inspired by truth? Many 
place happiness in music, vocal and instrumental, flutes and 
strings. When they are without music they consider themselves 
unhappy; when they have it, they are transported with joy. 
Shall we, when the harmonious and creative silence of truth 
steals, so to speak, noiselessly over our minds, seek the happy life 
elsewhere, and fail to enjoy that which is ours now and securely. 
Men delight in the sheen of gold and silver, gems and colours. 
They delight in the brightness and pleasantness of visible light 
as it appears in fire or in the sun, moon and stars. When no 
trouble or want comes to rob them of that pleasure they think 
themselves happy, and therefore wish to live for ever. Shall we 
fear to place the happy life in the light of truth? 

36. Nay, since the chief good is recognized to be truth and is 
possessed when truth is possessed, and truth is wisdom, in wis- 
dom let us discern the chief good and possess it and enjoy it. 



I58 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

He is happy indeed who enjoys the chief good. Truth points 
out all the things that are truly good, and intelligent men, 
according to their capacity, choose one or more of them in order 
to enjoy them. People, for example, find pleasure in looking at 
some object which they are glad to behold in the light of the 
sun. Those among them who are endowed with strong healthy 
eyes love to look at nothing better than at the sun itself, which 
sheds its light upon the other things which delight weaker eyes. 
So a strong and vigorous mental vision may behold many true 
and changeless things with certain reason, but directs its regard 
to the truth itself whereby all things are made clear, and, cleav- 
ing to the truth and forgetting, as it were, all other things, it 
enjoys them all together in the truth. Whatever is pleasant in 
other true things is pleasant also in truth itself. 

37. Herein is our liberty, when we are subject to truth. And 
Truth is our God who liberates us from death, that is, from the 
condition of sin. For the Truth itself, speaking as Man to men, 
says to those who believe in him: “If ye abide in my word ye are 
truly my disciples, and ye shall know the truth and the truth 
shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). No soul enjoys a thing 
with liberty unless it also enjoys it with security. 

xiv. But no one is secure in the possession of goods which 
he can lose against his will. Truth and wisdom no one can lose 
unwillingly. From them there can be no spatial separation. 
What is called separation from truth and wisdom is a perverse 
will which loves lower things. No one wills anything involun- 
tarily. Here is something which we can all enjoy equally and in 
common. Here there is no straitness, no deficiency. She re- 
ceives all her lovers, being grudging to none, shared by all in 
common but chaste to each. None says to another: “Stand back 
that I too may approach,” or “Remove your hand that I too 
may touch.” All cleave to the same wisdom. All are brought 
into contact with it. Nothing is consumed as in the case of food, 
and you cannot drink so as to prevent me from drinking too. 
From that common store you can convert nothing into your 
private possession. What you take remains unharmed for me to 
take also. I do not have to wait for you to breathe out what you 
have breathed in that I may then breathe it in. Nothing ever 
belongs to one man or to any group of men as a private posses- 
sion. The whole is common to all at one and the same time. 

38. Truth, therefore, is less like the things we touch or taste or 
smell, and more like the things we hear and see. For every word 
is heard as a whole by all who hear it and by each one at the same 



ON FREE WILL 


*59 

time. And every sight offered to the eyes is exactly the same for 
all who see it, and is seen by all at the same time. But though 
there is similarity there is also a great difference. A whole word 
is not spoken all at once. It is extended over a period of time, 
one syllable being pronounced first and another after it. Every 
visible sight varies with the place from which it is seen, and is 
nowhere seen in its totality. And certainly all these things can 
be taken from us whether we will or no, and there are difficul- 
ties in the way of our enjoying them. Even supposing someone 
could sing sweetly for ever, those who were eager to hear him 
would come as rivals. They would get packed closely together, 
and the more there were of them they would strive for seats, each 
one anxious to get nearer to the singer. And when they heard 
him no one would be able to retain permanently what was heard. 
They would hear nothing but transient fugitive sounds. If I 
wanted to look at the sun and had the power to do so without 
being dazzled, nevertheless it would forsake me when it set, or 
it might be veiled in cloud, and for many other causes I might 
unwillingly lose my pleasure in seeing the sun. And supposing I 
had the power and pleasure of eternally seeing the light and 
hearing music, what great advantage would I have, seeing that 
even beasts could share it with me? But the beauty of truth and 
wisdom, so long as there is a persevering will to enjoy it, does 
not exclude those who come by any packed crowd of hearers. 
It does not pass with time or change with locality. It is not 
interrupted by night or shut off by shadow, and is not subject 
to the bodily senses. To all who turn to it; from the whole world, 
and love it, it is close at hand, everlasting, bound to no parti- 
cular spot, never deficient. Externally it suggests, internally it 
teaches. All who behold it, it changes for the better, and by none 
is it changed for the worse. No one judges it, and no one without 
it judges aright. Hence it is evident beyond a doubt that wisdom 
is better than our minds, for by it alone they are made indi- 
vidually wise, and are made judges, not of it, but by it of all 
other things whatever. 

xv, 39- You admitted for your part that if I could show you 
something superior to our minds you would confess that it was 
God, provided nothing existed that was higher still. I accepted 
your admission and said it would be sufficient if I demon- 
strated that. If there is anything more excellent than wisdom, 
doubtless it, rather, is God. But if there is nothing more excel- 
lent, then truth itself is God. Whether there is or is not such a 
higher thing, you cannot deny that God exists, and this was the 



l6o AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

question set for our discussion. If you are influenced by what we 
have received in faith from the holy discipline of Christ, that 
there is the Father of Wisdom, remember that we also received 
in faith that there is one equal to the eternal Father, namely 
Wisdom who is begotten of him. Hence there should be no 
further question, but we should accept it with unshakable faith. 
God exists and is the truest and fullest being. This I suppose we 
hold with undoubting faith. Now we attain it with a certain if 
tenuous form of knowledge. This is sufficient for the question in 
hand, so that we can go on to explain other pertinent questions; 
unless you have any opposition to offer. Ev. — I accept what you 
have said with incredible and inexpressible joy, and I declare it 
to be absolutely certain. I declare it in my mind where I hope 
to be heard by the truth itself, and where I hope to cleave to 
truth. For I confess that it is not only good, but the chief good 
and the beatific good. 

40. Aug. — Indeed you are right, and I too am very glad. But 
are we already wise and happy, or are we still merely making 
for the source of wisdom and happiness? Ev. — I think we are 
rather making for the source. Aug. — Whence then do you derive 
your comprehension of the certain truths which have made you 
shout for joy? Has your comprehension got some connection 
with wisdom? Or can a foolish person know wisdom? Ev. — So 
long as he remains foolish he cannot. Aug. — Are you then wise 
already, or do you not yet know wisdom? Ev. — Indeed I am 
not yet wise, and yet I should not say that I am foolish, for I 
have some inkling of wisdom. I cannot deny that, since these 
things which I know are certain, and they belong to wisdom. 
Aug. — Tell me, pray, wouldn’t you admit that he who is not just 
is unjust; and he who is not prudent is imprudent; and he who 
is not temperate is intemperate? Is there any doubt about that? 
Ev. — I admit that when a man is not just he is unjust; and I 
should reply similarly with regard to prudence and temperance. 
Aug. — Why, then, shouldn’t a man be foolish when he is not wise? 
Ev. — I allow that too. When anyone is not wise he is foolish. 
Aug. — Now to which class do you belong? Ev. — Whichever of 
these epithets you care to apply to me, I do not venture yet to 
call myself wise. I see that the consequence of my admissions is 
that I must not hesitate to call myself foolish. Aug. — Then a 
foolish person knows wisdom. For as we said, no one would be 
certain that he wanted to be wise, and that he ought to be wise, 
unless the notion of wisdom were implanted in his mind. Think 
how you were able to reply to one question after another in 



ON FREE WILL l6l 

matters which belong to wisdom, and how you rejoiced to know 
them. Ev. — Yes. That is so. 

xvi, 41. Aug . — What do we do when we are eager to be 
wise? Don’t we with all possible keenness give our whole soul, 
so to speak, to what is mentally discerned, and keep it stead- 
fastly fixed on that, so that it may not rejoice in any private 
possession of its own which will implicate it in transient things, 
but, having put off all affections for things temporal and 
spatial, it may apprehend what remains ever one and the same? 
For as the soul is the whole life of the body, so is God the happy 
life of the soul. While we do as I have just described, so long as 
we continue, we are in the way \in via]. If it is given us to rejoice 
in these true and certain blessings as they glimmer for us even 
now on our still darkly shadowed way, perhaps this is what 
Scripture means when it describes how wisdom deals with the 
lovers who come to her. For it is written: “In their paths she 
appeareth unto them graciously, and in every purpose she 
meeteth them 55 (Wisdom 6:16). Wherever you turn she speaks 
to you through certain traces of her operations. When you are 
falling away to external things she recalls you to return within 
by the very forms of external things. Whatever delights you in 
corporeal objects and entices you by appeal to the bodily 
senses, you may see is governed by number, and when you ask 
how that is so, you will return to your mind within, and know 
that you could neither approve nor disapprove things of sense 
unless you had within you, as it were, laws of beauty by which 
you judge all beautiful things which you perceive in the world. 

42. Behold the heaven, the earth, the sea; all that is bright in 
them or above them; all that creep or fly or swim; all have 
forms because all have number. Take away number and ihey will 
be nothing. From whom have they their being if not from him 
who has made number? For they exist only in so far as they have 
number. The artificers of all corporeal forms work by number 
and regulate their operations thereby. In working they move 
their hands and tools until that which is fashioned in the outer 
world, being referred to the inward light of number, receives 
such perfection as is possible, and, being reported on by the 
senses, pleases the internal judge who beholds the supernal 
ideal numbers. Do you ask who moves the limbs of the arti- 
ficer? It will be number, for they, too, move by number. 
Suppose there is no actual work in hand and no intention to 
make anything, but the motions of the limbs are done for 
pleasure, that will be dancing. Ask what delights you in dancing 



162 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

and number will reply: “Lo, here am I.” Examine the beauty 
of bodily form, and you will find that everything is in its place 
by number. Examine the beauty of bodily motion and you will 
find everything in its due time by number. Examine the art 
which produces all these things and you never anywhere find 
in it either space or time, but it is alive with number. It has 
neither place in space nor length of days. And yet those who 
want to become artificers, while they accustom themselves to 
learning their art, move their bodies in space and time, and their 
minds at least in time. They become more skilled, I mean, with 
the passing of time. But rise above even the mind of the artificer 
to behold the eternal realm of number. Then wisdom will shine 
upon you from its inward seat, from the secret place of truth. 
If truth repels you still because you look for it somewhat lan- 
guidly, direct your mental vision to that path in which “she 
shows herself graciously.” Remember that you have postponed 
a vision that you will seek again when you have become stronger 
and sounder. 

43. Woe to those who abandon thy leading and wander 
among things which are but signs of thy working, who love thy 
nod rather than thyself and are oblivious to what thou teachest 
thereby, O Wisdom, sweetest light of the purified mind. For 
thou ceasest not to suggest to us what and how great thou art. 
Thy pleasure is the whole glory of created beings. An artificer 
somehow suggests to the spectator of his work, through the very 
beauty of the work itself, not to be wholly content with that 
beauty alone, but to let his eye so scan the form of the material 
thing made that he may remember with affection him who 
made it. Those who love thy creatures in place of thee are like 
men who, listening to an eloquent sage, pay too much attention 
to the sweetness of his voice and the aptness of his verbal style 
and miss the meaning of his sentences, of which the words are 
but the sound-signals, as it were. Woe to those who turn away 
from thy light and are happy enough to remain in their own 
obscurity. It is as if they turned their backs on thee and went 
on with their carnal labours in their own shadows; yet even so 
what pleases them is theirs because of thy light shining all 
round them. But so long as the shadow is loved the mind’s eye 
is made languid and becomes less able to bear to behold thee. 
So a man becomes more and more shrouded in darkness so long 
as he pursues willingly what he finds in his weakness is more easy 
to receive. Then he begins not to be able to see what supremely 
is, and to consider that to be evil which deceives him because 



ON FREE WILL 


163 

of his lack of foresight, or tempts him because he is in need, or 
tortures him because he is a slave. All these things he deservedly 
suffers because he has turned away from truth, and whatever is 
just cannot be evil. 

44. Neither by bodily sense nor by the thinking mind can 
you find any mutable thing which is not contained in some 
numerical form. Take away the form and it sinks to nothing- 
ness. Nevertheless do not doubt that there is an eternal and im- 
mutable form which prevents these mutable things from being 
reduced to nothingness, and preserves them through their 
appointed periods of existence in their measured motions and 
with their distinct varieties of form. That eternal form is neither 
contained in nor diffused through space, nor does it extend 
through or vary with changing times. Yet by it all other things 
can be formed, and, each in its own kind, can occupy spaces 
and times in which number rules. 

xvii, 45. Every mutable thing must also be capable of 
receiving form. We call that mutable which can be changed, 
and similarly we call that “formable” which is capable of re- 
ceiving form. Nothing can “form” itself, because nothing can 
give itself what it does not have. To be “formed” means pre- 
cisely to have form. Hence if a thing has form, it does not need 
to receive what it has. If it has not form it cannot give itself 
form. So, as we said, nothing can form itself. What more shall 
we say about the mutability of the body and the mind? We have 
said enough before. The conclusion is that both body and mind 
receive form from a form that is unchangeable and eternal. Of 
this form it is written: “Thou shalt change them and they shall 
be changed, but thou art the same, and thy years have no end” 
(Ps. 102:26-27). The prophetic word says “years without end,” 
meaning eternity. Again of this form it is written: “She, re- 
maining in herself, reneweth all things” (Wisdom 7:27). Hence 
we understand that all things are ruled by providence. If all 
existing things would cease to be if form were taken from them, 
the unchangeable form by which all mutable things exist and 
fulfil their functions in the realm of number is to them a pro- 
vidence. If it were not, they would not be. Therefore he who 
journeys towards wisdom, beholding and considering the whole 
created universe, finds wisdom appearing unto him graciously 
on his way and meeting him in every purpose or providence; 
and his eagerness to press along that way is all the greater 
because he sees that the way is rendered beautiful by the wisdom 
he longs to reach. 



164 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

46. If you can find any other kind of creature besides these 
three — that which is but has not life, that which is and has life 
but not intelligence, and that which is and has life and intelli- 
gence — you may then dare to say that there is some good thing 
which does not owe its existence to God. Now instead of speak- 
ing of three kinds of things, we may speak simply of two, body 
and life. For the life of beasts, which live but have not intelli- 
gence, and the life of men, who have intelligence too, are both 
alike correctly called life. Of course we also speak of the life of 
the Creator but that is life in a supreme sense. When I speak 
now about body and life I am thinking only of created things. 
Well, these two created things, body and life, being “formable” 
as we said and returning to nothingness when form is com- 
pletely taken from them, clearly show that they owe their 
existence to the form which remains always the same. There 
can be no good things, whether great or small, which do not owe 
their existence to God. Among created things, what can be 
greater than intelligent life, and what can be smaller than body? 
However defective they may become, thereby tending to 
nothingness, still some form remains in them so that they have 
some kind of existence. Whatever of form remains in any 
defective thing derives from that form which cannot be defec- 
tive, and which does not allow the movement of things up or 
down the scale of being to transgress the laws of their being. 
Whatever, therefore, in nature is observed to be praiseworthy, 
whether it is thought worthy of great or small praise, should 
point to the exceeding and ineffable praise of the Creator. Have 
you anything to say to that? 

xviii, 47. Ev . — I confess I am entirely convinced; and I see 
also how it can be demonstrated, so far as that is possible in this 
life and among people like us, that God exists and that all good 
things come from him. For all things which exist, whether they 
merely exist or have in addition life and intelligence, all are 
from God. Now let us look at the third question, which is this. 
Can it be shown that free will is to be numbered among the 
things which are good? When this has been demonstrated I 
shall not hesitate to concede that God has given us free will and 
has rightly given it to us. Aug . — You do well to recall the ques- 
tions we proposed for our discussion; and you have shown your 
vigilance in observing that the second of them has been an- 
swered. But you ought to have seen that the third also has been 
solved. You said you thought that we ought not to have been 
given free will because by it men commit sin. When I urged 



ON FREE WILL 


165 

against your statement that without free choice men could not 
act rightly, and asserted instead that God gave it to that end, 
you replied that we should have been given free will just as we 
have been given justice which can only be used rightly. Your 
reply compelled us to travel the long circuitous route of discus- 
sion in order to prove that all good things, great and small, 
come from God alone. For that could not be clearly shown un- 
less in the first place our poor reason, such as it is, should, with 
God’s aid on our perilous journey, hit upon some evident 
answer in so great a matter to the opinions of impious folly such 
as the fool shows who says in his heart there is no God. These 
two propositions — that God exists, and that all good things 
come from him — we already held firmly by faith. But we have 
so thoroughly discussed them that the third proposition too — 
that free will is to be numbered among the things which are 
good — has been made clear. 

48. In our previous discussion it was made obvious, and was 
agreed by us both, that body occupies by nature a lower rank 
in the scale of being than does soul; and that therefore soul is a 
greater good than body. If, then, we find among the good things 
of the body some that a man can abuse, and yet cannot on that 
account say that they ought not to have been given, since we 
admit that they are good, it should not be matter for surprise if 
in the soul too there are some good things which may be 
abused, but which, because they are good, could only have been 
given by him from whom all good things come. You see of how 
much good a body is deprived if it has no hands, and yet a man 
makes a bad use of his hands who uses them to do cruel or base 
deeds. If you see a man without feet you will admit that, from 
the point of view of the wholeness of his body, a very great good 
is wanting. And yet you would not deny that a man makes a 
bad use of his feet who uses them to hurt another or to dis- 
honour himself. With the eyes we see the light and distinguish 
the forms of bodies. Sight is the most splendid possession our 
bodies have, and for that reason the eyes are set in a place of 
great dignity. By the use of them we look after our safety and 
enjoy many other advantages in life. Yet many people use their 
eyes for many base purposes, compelling them to serve the 
interests of lust. You see how much good is lost to the human 
face if it has no eyes. Now who has given us eyes if not God, the 
bountiful giver of all good things? Just as you approve these 
good things which the body enjoys, and praise him who has 
given them, paying no attention to those who make a bad use 



166 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

of them; even so ought you to confess that free will, without 
which no one can live aright, is a good thing divinely bestowed, 
and that those are to be condemned who make a bad use of it, 
rather than to suggest that he who gave it ought not to have 
done so. 

49. Ev . — I should like you first to prove to me that free will 
is a good thing. Then I shall agree that God gave it, because I 
admit that all good things come from God. Aug . — Have I not 
proved this to your satisfaction after all the labour of our pre- 
vious discussion? You admitted that every corporeal form de- 
rives its existence from the supreme form of all, that is, from the 
truth. And you agreed that every form was good. Truth him- 
self, in the Gospel, tells us that even the hairs of our heads are 
numbered. Have you forgotten what we said about the 
supremacy of number, and its power which extends from one 
end to the other? What perversity it is to number our hairs 
among the good things though they are small and utterly con- 
temptible, and to attribute their creation to God, the Creator of 
all good things because all good things, the greatest and the 
least, come from him from whom is all good; and yet to hesitate 
to ascribe free will to him, seeing that without it no one can live 
aright even on the testimony of those who live evil lives. Now 
tell me, pray, what in us seems to be superior, that without 
which we can live aright, or that without which we cannot live 
aright. Ev . — Now please spare me. I am ashamed of my blind- 
ness. Who can doubt that that is far superior without which 
there can be no right living? Aug . — Will you deny that a one- 
eyed man can live rightly? Ev . — Away with such shocking mad- 
ness. Aug . — You agree that an eye is a good thing, and yet the 
loss of it does not prevent right living. Can you imagine that 
free will, without which no one can live aright, is no good 
thing? 

50. Look at justice, of which no one can make a bad use. It 
is numbered among the best good things which a man can have. 
So are all the virtues of the soul which constitute the righteous 
and honourable life. No one makes a bad use of prudence or 
fortitude or temperance. In all of these, as in justice which you 
have chosen to mention, right reason prevails, without which 
there can be no virtues. And no one can make a bad use of 
right reason, [xix.] These are therefore great good things. 
But you must remember that there can be no good things, great 
or small, save from him from whom all good things come, that 
is, God. So we were persuaded by our previous discussion, in 



ON FREE WILL 


167 

the course of which you so often and so gladly expressed your 
assent. The virtues then, whereby life is rightly lived, are great 
goods. But the forms of bodies, without which life can be rightly 
lived, are the least of good things. And the powers of the soul, 
without which there can be no righteous life, are intermediate 
goods. No one makes a bad use of the virtues. But of the other 
goods, the intermediate and the small, anyone can make not 
only a good but also a bad use. No one makes a bad use of 
virtue, just because the function of virtue is the good use of the 
things of which we can also make a bad use. No one makes a 
bad use of anything when he uses it well. Wherefore God in his 
great and lavish goodness affords us not only great goods, but 
small ones too, and some intermediate between great and 
small. His goodness is more to be praised for the great goods 
than for the intermediate ones, and for the intermediate ones 
more than for the small ones. But for all, his goodness is to be 
praised more than if he had given only the great goods and not 
the lesser as well. 

51. Ev . — I agree, but I still have this difficulty. We see that 
free will makes use of other things either well or ill. How, then, 
is it to be numbered among the things we use? Aug . — Every- 
thing we know scientifically we know by means of reason, and 
yet reason itself is numbered among the things we know by 
reason. Have you forgotten that when we were inquiring as to 
the things we know by reason, you admitted that reason was 
known by reason? Do not marvel, therefore, if we use other 
things by free will, and can also use free will by itself. Will, 
which uses other things, somehow also uses itself, just as reason 
which knows other things knows itself also. Memory, too, con- 
tains not only all the other things which it remembers; but 
because we do not forget that we have memory, somehow 
memory remembers itself as well as other things. Or rather by 
memory we remember other things and memory too. 

52. Will is therefore an intermediate good when it cleaves to 
the unchangeable good as something that is common property 
and not its own private preserve; of the same nature, that is to 
say, as truth of which we have spoken a great deal, but nothing 
worthy of so great a theme; when will cleaves to this good, man 
attains the happy life. And the happy life, that is, the disposition 
of soul cleaving to the unchangeable good, is the proper and 
first good of man. All the virtues are there which no one can 
use badly. However great and important the virtues may be, 
we know well enough that they are not common property, but 



168 Augustine: earlier writings 

arc the property of each individual man. Truth and wisdom are 
common to all, and all wise men are also happy by cleaving to 
truth. But one man does not become happy by another’s hap- 
piness. If one man seeks to attain happiness by imitating an- 
other, he seeks his happiness where he sees the other found his, 
that is to say in unchangeable and common truth. No one is 
made prudent by the prudence of another, or courageous by his 
courage, or temperate by his temperance, or just by his justice. 
A man is made virtuous by regulating his soul according to the 
rules and guiding lights of the virtues which dwell indestructibly 
in the truth and wisdom that are the common property of all. 
For so the virtuous man whom he set before him for imitation 
has regulated his soul, giving it a fixed objective. 

53. The will, therefore, which cleaves to the unchangeable 
good that is common to all, obtains man’s first and best good 
things though it is itself only an intermediate good. But the will 
which turns from the unchangeable and common good and 
turns to its own private good or to anything exterior or inferior, 
sins. It turns to its private good, when it wills to be governed by 
its own authority; to what is exterior, when it is eager to know 
what belongs to others and not to itself; to inferior things, when 
it loves bodily pleasure. In these ways a man becomes proud, 
inquisitive, licentious, and is taken captive by another kind of 
life which, when compared with the life we have just described, 
is really death. And yet it is still governed and disposed by 
divine providence, which appoints for all things their proper 
places, and distributes to each man his due according to his 
deserts. So it happens that the good things sought by sinners 
cannot in any way be bad, nor can free will be bad, for we 
found that it was to be numbered among the intermediate 
goods. What is bad is its turning away from the unchangeable 
good and its turning to changeable goods. That “aversion” and 
“conversion” is voluntary and is not coerced. Therefore it is 
followed by the deserved and just penalty of unhappiness. 

xx, 54. But perhaps you are going to ask what is the cause 
of the movement of the will when it turns from the immutable 
to the mutable good. That movement is certainly evil, although 
free will must be numbered among good things since without it 
no one can live aright. We cannot doubt that that movement of 
the will, that turning away from the Lord God, is sin; but surely 
we cannot say that God is the author of sin? God, then, will not 
be the cause of that movement; but what will be its cause? If 
you ask this, and I answer that I do not know, probably you 



ON FREE WILL 


169 

will be saddened. And yet that would be a true answer. That 
which is nothing cannot be known. Only hold fast to your pious 
opinion that no good thing can happen to you, to your senses 
or to your intelligence or to your thought, which does not come 
from God. Nothing of any kind can happen which is not of God. 
Do not hesitate to attribute to God as its maker every thing 
which you see has measure, number and order. When you take 
these things completely away nothing at all will remain. Wher- 
ever measure, number and order are found, there is perfect 
form. If there is some kind of inchoate form, wanting measure, 
number and order, you must remove it too, for inchoate form 
is a kind of material lying to the hand of the artificer to use for 
perfecting his work. For if the perfection of form is good, the 
beginning of form is not without some grain of good. Take away 
all good, and absolutely nothing will remain. All good is from 
God. Hence there is no natural existence which is not from God. 
Now that movement of “aversion,” which we admit is sin, is a 
defective movement; and all defect comes from nothing. Ob- 
serve where it belongs and you will have no doubt that it does 
not belong to God. Because that defective movement is volun- 
tary, it is placed within our power. If you fear it, all you have 
to do is simply not to will it. If you do not will it, it will not 
exist. What can be more secure than to live a life where nothing 
can happen to you which you do not will. But since man cannot 
rise of his own free will as he fell by his own will spontaneously, 
let us hold with steadfast faith the right hand of God stretched 
out to us from above, even our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us wait 
for him with certain hope, and long for him with burning 
charity. If you think that we must still make diligent inquiry 
for the origin of sin — I myself think that there is no need at all 
for such inquiry — but if you think so, we must put it off till 
another discussion. Ev . — I bow to your will, but only so far 
as to postpone to another time the question you have raised. 
But I will not allow you to imagine that our inquiry has already 
gone far enough. 


Book III 

i, 1 . Evodius . — It is sufficiently evident to me that free will is to be 
numbered among the good things, and, indeed, not among the 
least of our good things. We are, therefore, compelled to confess 
that it has been given us by God, and that he has rightly given 
it to us. But now, if you think a suitable time has come, I want 



170 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

to learn from you whence arises the movement by which the 
will itself turns from the unchangeable good, which is the com- 
mon property of all, to its own interests or to the interests of 
others or to things beneath it, and so turns to mutable goods. 
Augustine . — Why must you know this? Ev. — Because if free will 
is so given that it has that movement by nature, it turns of 
necessity to mutable goods; and no blame attaches where 
nature and necessity prevail. Aug . — Do you like or dislike that 
movement? Ev. — I dislike it. Aug. — So you find fault with it? 
Ev. — I do. Aug. — Then you find fault with a movement of the 
mind though it is faultless. Ev. — No, I do not. But I do not know 
whether there is any fault in abandoning the unchangeable 
good and turning towards the mutable goods. Aug. — Then you 
are finding fault with something which you do not know. Ev . — 
Don’t insist on a verbal point. I said that I did not know 
whether there was any fault, but I meant to be understood really 
as having no doubt about it. Certainly I said I do not know, 
but obviously I was being ironical in suggesting that there could 
be any doubt about so clear a matter. Aug. — Just consider what 
is that truth you hold to be so certain that it has caused you so 
soon to forget what you said a moment ago. If that movement 
of the will exists by nature or necessity, it is in no way culpable. 
And yet you are so firmly convinced that it is culpable that you 
think fit to wax ironical about hesitation over a matter so cer- 
tain. Why did you think it right to affirm, or at least to say with 
some hesitation, what you yourself show to be obviously false? 
You said: “If free will has been given in such fashion that it has 
that movement by nature, then it turns to mutable things of 
necessity, and no fault can be found where nature and necessity 
rule.” But you ought to have had no doubt that it was not given 
in that fashion, since you do not doubt that that movement is 
culpable. Ev. — I said that the movement is culpable, and that 
therefore it displeases me, and that I cannot doubt that it is 
reprehensible. But I hold that a soul which is thereby drawn 
from the unchangeable good to mutable goods is not to be 
blamed if its nature is such that it is so moved by necessity. 

2. Aug. — To whom belongs the movement which you admit 
is blameworthy? Ev. — I see that it is in the soul, but to whom it 
belongs I know not. Aug. — You do not deny that the soul is 
moved by that motion? Ev. — No. Aug. — Do you then deny that 
the motion by which a stone is moved is the motion of the 
stone? I don’t mean the motion that we give to it, or that is 
given to it by some other force, when it is thrown upwards, but 



ON FREE WILL 


171 

that by which of its own accord it falls back to earth. Ev . — I do 
not deny that the motion you refer to, by which it turns and 
falls downwards, is the motion of the stone, but it is its natural 
motion., If the motion of the soul is like that, it too is natural, 
and it cannot rightly be blamed for a motion that is natural. 
Even if it moves to its own destruction, it is compelled by the 
necessity of its own nature. Moreover because we have no doubt 
that the soul’s motion is culpable we must absolutely deny that 
it is natural, and therefore not like the motion of the stone, 
which is natural motion. Aug . — Did we achieve anything in our 
two previous discussions? Ev . — I am sure we did. Aug . — No 
doubt you remember that in the first discussion we discovered 
that the mind can become the slave of lust only by its own 
will. No superior thing and no equal thing compels it to such 
dishonour, because that would be unjust. And no inferior thing 
has the power. It remains that that must be the mind’s own 
motion when it turns its will away from enjoyment of the 
Creator to enjoyment of the creature. If that motion is accounted 
blameworthy — and you thought anyone who doubted that 
deserved to be treated ironically — it is not natural but volun- 
tary. It is like the motion of the falling stone, in so far as it is a 
motion of the soul as the former is the motion of the stone. But 
it is dissimilar in this, that it is not in the power of a stone to 
arrest its downward motion, while if the soul is not willing it 
cannot be moved to abandon what is higher and to love what 
is lower. Thus the stone’s motion is natural, the soul’s volun- 
tary. Hence anyone who says that a stone sins when it is carried 
downwards by its own weight is, I will not say more senseless 
than the stone but, completely mad. But we charge the soul 
with sin when we show that it has abandoned the higher things 
and prefers to enjoy lower things. What need is there, therefore, 
to seek the origin of the movement whereby the will turns from 
the unchangeable to the changeable good? We acknowledge 
that it is a movement of the soul, that it is voluntary and there- 
fore culpable. And all useful learning in this matter has its 
object and value in teaching us to condemn and restrain that 
movement, and to convert our wills from falling into temporal 
delights to the enjoyment of the eternal good. 

3. Ev . — I see, and in a sense grasp that what you say is true. 
There is nothing that I feel more certainly and more personally 
than that I have a will, and that it moves me to enjoy this or 
that. I know nothing I could call my own if the will by which I 
will “yea” or “nay” is not my own. If I use it to do evil, to 



172 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

whom is the evil to be attributed if not to myself? Since a good 
God has made me, and I can do nothing right except by willing, 
it is clearly evident that it was to this end that the will has been 
given to me by God who is good. Moreover, unless the move- 
ment of the will towards this or that object is voluntary and 
within our power, a man would not be praiseworthy when he 
turns to the higher objects nor blameworthy when he turns to 
lower objects, using his will like a hinge. There would be no use 
at all in warning him to pay no attention to temporal things and 
to will to obtain the eternal things, or to will to live aright and 
to be unwilling to live an evil life. But whoever thinks that man 
is not to be so warned ought to be cut off from membership in 
the human race. 

ii, 4. That being so, I have a deep desire to know how it can 
be that God knows all things beforehand and that, neverthe- 
less, we do not sin by necessity. Whoever says that anything can 
happen otherwise than as God has foreknown it, is attempting 
to destroy the divine foreknowledge with the most insensate 
impiety. If God foreknew that the first man would sin — and 
that anyone must concede who acknowledges with me that God 
has foreknowledge of all future events — I do not say that God 
did not make him, for he made him good, nor that the sin of the 
creature whom he made good could be prejudicial to God. On 
the contrary, God showed his goodness in making man, his 
justice in punishing his sin, and his mercy in delivering him. I 
do not say, therefore, that God did not make man. But this I 
say. Since God foreknew that man would sin, that which God 
foreknew must necessarily come to pass. How then is the will free 
when there is apparently this unavoidable necessity? 

5. Aug . — You have knocked vigorously. May God in his 
mercy grant us his presence and open the door to those who 
knock. But I verily believe that the vast majority of men are 
troubled by that question for no other reason than that they do 
not ask it in a pious fashion. They are swifter to make excuses 
for their sins than to make confession of them. Some are glad to 
hold the opinion that there is no divine providence presiding 
over human affairs. They commit themselves, body and soul, 
to fortuitous circumstances, and deliver themselves to be car- 
ried about and tormented by lusts. They deny that there is 
any divine judgment, and deceive human judges when they are 
accused. They imagine that they are driven on by the favour of 
fortune. In sculpture or painting they are wont to represent 
Fortune as blind, either because they are better than the god- 



ON FREE WILL 


173 

dess by whom they think they are ruled, or because they confess 
that in their sentiments they are afflicted with that same blind- 
ness. In the case of such people it is not absurd to admit that 
they do everything by chance, seeing that they stumble in all 
that they do. But against this opinion, so full of foolish and sense- 
less error, we have, I think, sufficiently spoken in our second 
disputation. Others do not venture to deny that the providence 
of God presides over human affairs, but they would rather in- 
dulge in the wicked error of belie ving that providence is weak or 
unjust or evil than confess their sins with suppliant piety. If all 
these would suffer themselves to be persuaded to believe that 
the goodness, justice and power of God are greater far, and far 
superior to any thought they can have of goodness, justice or 
might, if they would but take thought to themselves, they would 
know that they owe thanks to God, even if he had willed them 
to be somewhat lower in the scale of being than they actually 
are, and with all that is within them they would exclaim with 
the Psalmist: “I have spoken: Lord have mercy upon me; heal 
my soul for I have sinned against thee” (Ps. 41 :5). So by stages 
the divine mercy would bring them to wisdom. They would be 
neither inflated by what they discover, nor rebellious when they 
fail to find the truth; by learning they would become better 
prepared to see the truth, and by recognizing their ignorance 
they would become more patient in seeking it. I am quite sure 
that these are your views too. Now first answer a few questions 
I am going to put to you, and you will see how easily I can find 
a solution to your tremendous problem. 

iii, 6., Your trouble is this. You wonder how it can be that 
these two propositions are not contradictory and incompatible, 
namely that God has foreknowledge of all future events, and 
that we sin voluntarily and not by necessity. For if, you say, 
God foreknows that a man will sin, he must necessarily sin. 
But if there is necessity there is no voluntary choice in sinning, 
but rather fixed and unavoidable necessity. You are afraid that 
by that reasoning the conclusion may be reached either that 
God’s foreknowledge of all future events must be impiously 
denied, or, if that cannot be denied, that sin is committed not 
voluntarily but by necessity. Isn’t that your difficulty? Ev . — 
Exactly that. Aug . — You think, therefore, that all things of 
which God has foreknowledge happen by necessity and not 
voluntarily. Ev. — Yes. Absolutely. Aug . — Try an experiment, 
and examine yourself a little, and tell me what kind of will you 
are going to have to-morrow. Will you want to sin or to do 



174 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

right? Ev. — I do not know. Aug . — Do you think God also does 
not know? Ev. — I could in no wise think that. Aug. — If God 
knows what you are going to will to-morrow, and foresees what 
all men are going to will in the future, not only those who are 
at present alive but all who will ever be, much more will he 
foresee what he is going to do with the just and the impious? 
Ev. — Certainly if I say that God has foreknowledge of my 
deeds, I should say with even greater confidence that he has 
foreknowledge of his own acts, and foresees with complete cer- 
tainty what he is going to do. Aug. — Don’t you see that you will 
have to be careful lest someone say to you that, if all things of 
which God has foreknowledge are done by necessity and not 
voluntarily, his own futuie acts will be done not voluntarily 
but by necessity? Ev. — When I said that all future events of 
which God has foreknowledge happen by necessity, I was hav- 
ing regard only to things which happen within his creation, 
and not to things which happen in God himself. Indeed, in God 
nothing happens. Everything is eternal. Aug. — God, then, is 
not active within his creation? Ev. — He determined once for all 
how the order of the universe he created was to go on, and he 
never changes his mind. Aug. — Does he never make anyone 
happy? Ev. — Indeed he does. Aug. — He does it precisely at the 
time when the man in question actually becomes happy. Ev. — 
That is so. Aug. — If, then, for example, you yourself are happy 
one year from now, you will be made happy at that time. 
Ev. — Exactly. Aug. — God knows to-day what he is going to do 
a year hence? Ev. — He eternally had that foreknowledge, but 
I agree that he has it now, if indeed it is to happen so. 

7. Aug. — Now tell me, are you not God’s creature? And will 
not your becoming happy take place within your experience? 
Ev. — Certainly I am God’s creature, and if I become happy it 
will be within my experience. Aug. — If God, then, makes you 
happy, your happiness will come by necessity and not by the 
exercise of your will? Ev. — God’s will is my necessity. Aug. — Will 
you then be happy against your will? Ev. — If I had the power 
to be happy, I should be so at once. For I wish to be happy but 
am not, because not I but God makes me happy. Aug. — The 
truth simply cries out against you. You could not imagine that 
“having in our power” means anything else than “being able to 
do what we will.” Therefore there is nothing so much in our 
power as is the will itself. For as soon as we will [ volumus ] im- 
mediately will [voluntas] is there. We can say rightly that we do 
not grow old voluntarily but necessarily, or that we do not die 



ON FREE WILL 


175 

voluntarily but from necessity, and so with other similar things. 
But who but a raving fool would say that it is not voluntarily 
that we will? Therefore though God knows how we are going 
to will in the future, it is not proved that we do not voluntarily 
will anything. When you said that you did not make yourself 
happy, you said it as if I had denied it. What I say is that when 
you become happy in the future it will take place not against 
your will but in accordance with your willing. Therefore, 
though God has foreknowledge of your happiness in the future, 
and though nothing can happen otherwise than as he has fore- 
known it (for that would mean that there is no foreknowledge) 
we are not thereby compelled to think that you will not be 
happy voluntarily. That would be absurd and far from true. 
God’s foreknowledge, which is even to-day quite certain that 
you are to be happy at a future date, does not rob you of your 
will to happiness when you actually attain happiness. Similarly 
if ever in the future you have a culpable will, it will be none the 
less your will because God had foreknowledge of it. 

8. Observe, pray, how blind are those who say that if God 
has foreknowledge of what I am going to will, since nothing can 
happen otherwise than as he has foreknown it, therefore I must 
necessarily will what he has foreknown. If so, it must be ad- 
mitted that I will, not voluntarily but from necessity. Strange 
folly! 1s; there, then, no difference between things that happen 
according to God’s foreknowledge where there is no interven- 
tion of man’s will at all, and things that happen because of a 
will of which he has foreknowledge? I omit the equally mon- 
strous assertion of the man I mentioned a moment ago, who 
says I must necessarily so will. By assuming necessity he strives 
to do away with will altogether. If I must necessarily will, why 
need I speak of willing at all? But if he puts it in another way, 
and says that, because he must necessarily so will, his will is not 
in his own power, he can be countered by the answer you gave 
me when I asked whether you could become happy against 
your will. You replied that you would be happy now if the 
matter were in your power, for you willed to be happy but 
could not achieve it. And I added that the truth cries out 
against you; for we cannot say we do not have the power unless 
we do not have what we will. If we do not have the will, we may 
think we will but in fact we do not. If we cannot will without 
willing, those who will have will, and all that is in our power 
we have by willing. Our will would not be will unless it were 
in our power. Because it is in our power, it is free. We have 



iy6 Augustine: earlier writings 

nothing that is free which is not in our power, and if we have 
something it cannot be nothing. Hence it is not necessary to 
deny that God has foreknowledge of all things, while at the 
same time our wills are our own. God has foreknowledge of our 
will, so that of which he has foreknowledge must come to pass. 
In other words, we shall exercise our wills in the future because 
he has foreknowledge that we shall do so; and there can be no 
will or voluntary action unless it be in our power. Hence God 
has also foreknowledge of our power to will. My power is not 
taken from me by God’s foreknowledge. Indeed I shall be more 
certainly in possession of my power because he whose foreknow- 
ledge is never mistaken, foreknows that I shall have the power. 
Ev. — Now I no longer deny that whatever God has foreknown 
must necessarily come to pass, nor that he has foreknowledge of 
our sins, but in such a way that our wills remain free and 
within our power. 

iv, 9. Aug . — What further difficulty do you have? Perhaps 
you have forgotten what we established in our first disputation, 
and now wish to deny that we sin voluntarily and under no 
compulsion from anything superior, inferior or equal to us. 
Ev . — I do not venture to deny that at all. But I must confess I 
do not yet see how God’s foreknowledge of our sins and our 
freedom of will in sinning can be other than mutually contra- 
dictory. We must confess that God is just and knows all things 
beforehand. But I should like to know with what justice he 
punishes sins which must necessarily be committed; or how 
they are not necessarily committed when he knows that they 
will be committed; or how the Creator is to escape having im- 
puted to him anything that happens necessarily in his creature. 

10. Aug . — Why do you think our free will is opposed to God’s 
foreknowledge? Is it because it is foreknowledge simply, or be- 
cause it is God’s foreknowledge? Ev . — In the main because it is 
God’s foreknowledge. Aug . — If you knew in advance that such 
and such a man would sin, there would be no necessity for him 
to sin. Ev . — Indeed there would, for I should have no real 
foreknowledge unless I knew for certain what was going to 
happen. Aug . — So it is foreknowledge generally and not God’s 
foreknowledge specially that causes the events foreknown to 
happen by necessity? There would be no such thing as fore- 
knowledge unless there was certain foreknowledge. Ev . — I 
agree. But why these questions? Aug . — Unless I am mistaken, 
you would not directly compel the man to sin, though you knew 
beforehand that he was going to sin. Nor does your prescience 



ON FREE WILL 


177 

in itself compel him to sin even though he was certainly going 
to sin, as we must assume if you have real prescience. So there 
is no contradiction here. Simply you know beforehand what 
another is going to do with his own will. Similarly God compels 
no man to sin, though he sees beforehand those who are going 
to sin by their own will. 

11. Why then should he not justly punish sins which, though 
he had foreknowledge of them, he did not compel the sinner to 
commit? Just as you apply no compulsion to past events by 
having them in your memory, so God by his foreknowledge does 
not use compulsion in the case of future events. Just as you 
remember your past actions, though all that you remember were 
not actions of your own, so God has foreknowledge of all his 
own actions, but is not the agent of all that he foreknows. Of 
evil actions he is not the agent but the just punisher. From this 
you may understand with what justice God punishes sins, for 
he has no responsibility for the future actions of men though he 
knows them beforehand. If he ought not to award punishment 
to sinners because he knew beforehand that they would sin, he 
ought not to reward the righteous, because he knew equally 
that they would be righteous. Let us confess that it belongs to 
his foreknowledge to allow no future event to escape his know- 
ledge, and that it belongs to his justice to see that no sin goes 
unpunished by his judgment. For sin is committed voluntarily 
and not by any compulsion from his foreknowledge. 

v, 12. As to your third question how the Creator is to escape 
having imputed to him anything that happens necessarily in 
his creature, it is fitting for us to remember the rule of piety 
which says that we owe thanks to our Creator. That will provide 
us with the answer. His lavish goodness should be most justly 
praised even if he had made us with some lower rank in his 
creation. Though our soul be soiled with sins it is nevertheless 
loftier and better than if it were changed into visible light. And 
yet light is an eminent part of creation, as you can see by con- 
sidering how much God is praised for it, even by souls wholly 
given over to bodily sense. Wherefore, though sinful souls are 
censured, do not let that provoke you to say in your heart that 
it would have been better if they did not exist. They are cen- 
sured because they are compared with what they might have 
been if they had not willed to sin. God, their Maker, is to be 
gloriously praised for the human faculties with which he has 
endowed them, not only because he justly subjects them to his 
order when they sin, but also because he made them such that, 



178 Augustine: earlier writings 

even when soiled with sin, they are not surpassed in dignity by 
corporeal light, for which also God is rightly praised. 

13. Possibly you would not go so far as to say that it would 
have been better if sinful souls did not exist, but take care also 
not to say that they should have been other than they are. 
Whatever better argument true reason may suggest to you, 
know at least that God made them, and that he is author of all 
good things. For it is not true reason but envious weakness that 
bids you think that anything ought to have been made better 
than it is, and that nothing inferior should have been made at 
all. That is as if you looked at the heavens and concluded that 
the earth ought not to have been made. That is all wrong. You 
would be quite right to find fault if you saw that the earth had 
been made, and no heavens, for then you might say the earth 
ought to have been made according to your ideal conception of 
the heavens. But now you see that your ideal earth has been 
made, only it is called not earth but heaven. I believe that since 
you have not been defrauded of the better creation you ought 
not to grudge that there is an inferior creation which we call 
the earth. In the earth again there is such a variety among its 
parts that you can think of nothing of an earthly nature which 
God has not made somewhere in the totality of his work. For 
the earth contains land of all kinds, passing by gradual stages 
from the most fruitful and pleasant to the most deceitful and 
infertile tracts, so that you can only find fault with one kind of 
land by comparing it with a better kind. So you ascend through 
all the grades of land with their varying praiseworthy qualities, 
and when you find the very best land you are glad that there 
are the other kinds as well. And yet what a difference there is 
between earth, in all its variety, and heaven! Water and air are 
interposed. Of these four elements various other forms and 
species of things are made, innumerable to us but all numbered 
by God. There may be things in the natural realm which you 
would never have thought of yourself, but the wholly and purely 
rational cannot but be. You can think of nothing better in 
the creation which the Creator did not think of. When the 
human soul says: “This is better than that,” and if it says so 
truly, it will say so because of its relation to the divine reasons 
on which it depends. If it understands what it says, it does so 
likewise because of its relation to these reasons. Let it therefore 
believe that God has made what true reason knows he must 
have made, even if it is not evident in created things. If the 
heavens were invisible, but true reason led to the conclusion 



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179 

that such a thing must have been created, we ought to believe 
that it has been created though it do not appear to the eye. For 
thought would have no idea that it ought to have been created 
if it did not have some relation to the reasons through which all 
things were created. What does not exist can no more be thought 
than have true existence. 

14. Many err because, beholding the better things with their 
minds, they look for them also with their eyes in the wrong 
places. That would be as if someone, who by reason understood 
perfect rotundity, should be annoyed that he did not observe it 
in a nut, assuming that he never saw any other round object 
besides that fruit. So when some people see with true reason that 
there are better creatures who, though they have free will, have 
ever adhered to God and have never sinned, they look at the sins 
of men and lament not that they may cease from sin but simply 
that men have been created at all. They say: “He did not create 
us such that we should will ever to enjoy his unchangeable truth 
and never to sin.” Do not let them cry out or be annoyed. He 
did not compel them to sin by the mere fact that he created 
them and gave them power to choose good or evil as they 
would. He made them so far like those angels who never sinned 
and never will sin. If you delight in a creature which by volun- 
tary perseverance never sins, there is no doubt you rightly 
prefer it to a sinful creature. Just as you give it the preference 
in your thought, so God gives it the preference in his universal 
order. You may believe that there are such creatures in the 
loftier regions of the heavens. For if God showed his goodness 
in creating creatures whom he knew beforehand would sin, he 
would show his goodness no less in creating creatures whom he 
knew beforehand would never sin. 

15. Those sublime creatures have their happiness perpetually 
in the eternal enjoyment of their Creator; and their happiness 
they merit by their perpetual will to hold fast to righteousness. 
Below them sinful creatures have their proper order. By their 
sins they have lost happiness, but they have not lost the capacity 
to recover it. Herein they are superior to those creatures whose 
will is to remain perpetually in sin. Between these two extremes 
* — those who continue in the will to righteousness and those who 
continue in the will to sin— there is this middle class who by the 
humility of repentance recover their exalted rank. But God did 
not wit hhold the lavishness of his bounty even from his creatures 
who he knew beforehand would not only sin but would con- 
tinue in the will to sin; for he showed it in creating them. An 



l80 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

errant horse is better than a stone that cannot err because it 
has neither motion nor feeling of its own. So a creature which 
sins by its own free will is more excellent than one which cannot 
sin because it has no free will. I would praise wine that was good 
of its kind, and would censure the man who drank it to excess. 
And yet I would hold the man whom I had censured, even 
while he was drunk, to be superior to the wine which made him 
drunk, even though I had praised it. So the corporeal creature 
is rightly to be praised in its own order, though those are to be 
censured who use it to excess and are thereby turned away from 
perception of the truth. And those perverse people, drunkards 
or the like, are to be preferred to the thing, laudible in its own 
order, greediness for which made them vain; not indeed because 
of their vices but because of the dignity of their nature which 
still remains. 

1 6. Soul is universally superior to body. No soul can fall so 
far in sinfulness as to be changed into body. Its quality as soul 
cannot be taken from it, and it cannot in any way lose that 
which makes it superior to body. Now among corporeal objects 
light holds the first place. Consequently the worst soul is 
superior to the first of corporeal things. It is of course possible 
that some body may be preferable to the body in which a soul 
resides, but it cannot be preferred to the soul itself. Why, then, 
should not God be praised with all possible praise, who made 
souls that were to abide in the laws of righteousness, even if he 
also made other souls which he knew beforehand would sin or 
even persevere in sin? For even these are better than things that 
cannot sin because they have not reason or free choice of will. 
They are even better than the most splendid brilliance of bodies 
of any kind, though some people [the Manichees], greatly err- 
ing, venerate light as if it were the substance of God most high. 
In the order of corporeal creatures, from the sidereal choir 
down to the number of our hairs, the beauty of good things is so 
perfectly graded that it is a sign of lack of understanding to 
ask: “What is this?” or “To what purpose is that?” All things 
are created each in its own order. How much more does it show 
lack of understanding to ask such questions about any soul 
whatever? No matter how great a diminution of its glory it may 
suffer or what defects it may exhibit, nevertheless it will always 
and without any doubt surpass in dignity every kind of body. 

17. Reason has a different standard of judgment from that of 
utility. Reason judges by the light of truth, and correctly sub- 
ordinates lesser things to those that are greater. Utility, guided 



ON FREE WILL l8l 

by experience of convenience, often attributes a higher value to 
things which reason convinces us are of lesser rank. Reason sets 
a vast difference in value between celestial and terrestrial 
bodies, but what carnal man would not prefer that several stars 
should be wanting in the heavens, than that one shrub should 
be lacking in his field or one cow from his herd? Older men pay 
no attention to, or at least are prepared patiently to correct, the 
judgments of children, who prefer the death of a man (except 
one of those bound to them by the ties of happy affection), to 
the death of a favourite sparrow, especially if the man was an 
object of terror to them, and the sparrow was tuneful and 
beautiful. So, if there are people, unskilled in judging the values 
of things, who praise God for his lesser creatures, finding them 
more easily appreciated by their carnal senses, and do not 
praise him for his better and superior creatures, or praise him 
less than they ought, or try to find fault with his creatures and 
to point out how they might have been better, or even do not 
believe that he created them, those who have advanced some 
way towards wisdom either entirely scorn such judgments or 
hear them with good-natured patience if they cannot correct 
them or until they are corrected. 

vi, 1 8. Such being the case, it is far from the truth that the 
sins of the creature must be attributed to the Creator, even 
though those things must necessarily happen which he has fore- 
known. So much so that when you say you can find no reason 
why whatever necessarily happens in the creature should not be 
attributed to him, I on the contrary find no way, and I assert 
that none exists or can be found, of attributing to him what is 
done, necessarily no doubt, but also by the will of the sinner. If 
anyone says, I should prefer not to exist than to exist in un- 
happiness, I shall reply: That is a lie; for you are miserable now, 
and yet you do not wish to die, simply because you wish to 
exist. You don’t want to be miserable but you want to continue 
in life all the same. Give thanks, therefore, because you exist, as 
you wish to do, so that the misery you do not wish may be 
taken from you. You exist as you wish to do, but you are un- 
happy against your will. If you are ungrateful for your existence 
you are rightly compelled to be unhappy, which you do not 
wish. 1 praise the goodness of the Creator because, even when 
you are ungrateful, you have what you wish. And I praise the 
justice of the Orderer of things because for your ingratitude 
you suffer what you do not wish. 

19. If he says: I don’t want to die, not because I prefer to live 



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in misery rather than not to live at all, but lest I should be still 
more miserable after death, my reply will be: You will not be 
miserable if that would be unjust. But if it would be just, let 
us praise him by whose laws you are dealt with justly. If he says: 
How shall I know that I shall not be miserable unless misery be 
my just reward? I shall reply: If you are in your own power 
either you will not be miserable, or you will be justly miserable 
because you rule yourself unjustly. If you wish to rule yourself 
iustly and cannot, you will not be in your own power. You will 
then be in the power of no one or in the power of another. If you 
are in no one’s power you will act willingly or unwillingly. It 
cannot be unwillingly, unless some superior force overpowers 
you. But he who is in the power of no one cannot be overpowered 
by any force; if willingly, you are in no one’s power, and you 
must be in your own power, and either you will be miserable by 
ruling yourself unjustly, or, seeing you can be what you wish, you 
have cause to give thanks for the goodness of your Creator. If you 
are not in your own power, then someone must have you in his 
power who is either more powerful or less powerful than your- 
self. If he is less powerful the fault is your own and the misery 
just. But if someone, more powerful than you are, hold you in 
his power you will not rightly think so rightful an order to be 
unjust. It is true, therefore, that you will not be miserable if it is 
unjust, and if it is just, let us praise him whose laws bring it to 
pass. 

vii, 20. If my opponent says: I prefer to be miserable rather 
than not to be at all, because I already exist. If I could have 
been consulted before I began to be, I should have chosen not 
to be rather than to be miserable. The fact that, being miserable, 
I fear to become non-existent is part of my misery. I ought to 
wish not to be rather than to be miserable, but I do not. I con- 
fess that I do now actually prefer to be miserable than not to 
be; but the folly of this preference is in proportion to my misery. 
The more clearly I see how true it is that I should not have this 
preference, the greater is my misery. My reply will be this: Take 
all the greater care not to err when you think you see the truth. 
If you were happy you would prefer to be rather than not to be. 
Now when you are miserable you nevertheless prefer a miser- 
able existence to non-existence, though you do not wish to be 
miserable. Consider, then, how great a boon existence is, seeing 
that both the happy and the miserable desire it. If you con- 
sider this carefully you will see that your misery is in proportion 
to your failure to draw near to that which supremely exists. You 



ON FREE WILL 


183 

will see that the opinion that non-existence is better than miser- 
able existence depends on the extent to which you ignore what 
supremely exists; and that you wish to be because you derive 
your origin from him who supremely is. 

21. If, therefore, you wish to escape misery, love the very 
desire you have to exist. For if you wish more and more to exist, 
you will draw near to him who exists supremely. And give 
thanks now that you exist. You may be inferior to the blessed, 
but you are superior to things which have not even the will to 
beatitude, though many of these things are praised by miser- 
able men. All things are to be praised for the reason that they 
exist; for what exists is for that reason alone good. The more 
fully you love to have being the more fully will you desire 
eternal life, and choose to be formed so that your affections will 
not be set on temporal things. Emotions kindled by love for 
temporal things are unjust and uncontrolled. And temporal 
things, before they come to be, are not; while they are in exist- 
ence, they are fleeting; and when gone, will not be. When 
they come into being in the future, they are not yet. When they 
are past, they already are not. How can things be possessed 
abidingly, if the beginning of their existence is a step towards 
their end? He who loves existence approves them so far as they 
have existence, but loves what has eternal existence. If, loving 
temporal things, he was weak and variable, loving eternal 
things he will be made strong. If he was distracted by love of 
transient things, by love of that which abides he will be made 
stable. He will remain, and possess being, which he wished, 
inasmuch as he feared non-existence. He could not stand fast 
when he was snared by love of fleeting things. Do not therefore 
let it displease you, rather let it give you the greatest pleasure, 
that you prefer even miserable existence to non-existence, even 
if thereby you hope to escape misery. If you begin by wishing 
to exist, and add a desire for fuller and fuller existence, you rise 
in the scale, and are furnished for life that supremely is. So also 
you will keep yourself from every fall whereby lowest existence 
passes into non-existence and undermines the strength of him 
who loves it. Hence he who prefers non-existence to miserable 
existence, cannot attain non-existence, and therefore must 
remain miserable. He who loves existence more than he hates 
misery can, by seeking an ever fuller existence, exclude the 
misery he hates. When he has attained perfect existence after 
his kind, he will not be miserable. 

viii, 22. See how absurd and stupid it is to say: I should 



184 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

prefer non-existence to miserable existence. He who says, I 
prefer this to that, chooses something. Non-existence is not 
something; it is nothing. There can be no real choice when what 
you choose is nothing. You say you want to be, though you are 
miserable, but ought not to do so. What ought you to want? 
Not to be, you say. If you ought so to want, not-being must be 
better than being. But not-being cannot be better than being. 
Therefore you ought not to wish it. The common sense which 
keeps you from really wishing non-existence is more truthful 
than the opinion that bids you affirm that you ought to wish it. 
Every man should seek the right object of choice, for when he 
obtains it he must necessarily become better. But he cannot 
become better if he ceases to exist. No one therefore can rightly 
choose non-existence. We ought not to be influenced by the 
views of those who have committed suicide because misery 
pressed sore upon them. Either they fled for refuge to a place 
which they thought would be better for them — in which case 
there is nothing contrary to our argument, whether they were 
right or wrong in their thinking. Or they believed that they 
would not exist at all; in this case the false choice of those who 
choose nothing will affect us much less. How shall I follow one 
who when asked what his choice is answers, “Nothing”? Who- 
ever chooses non-existence is immediately convicted of choosing 
nothing, whether he is willing to admit it or not. 

23. I shall tell you my opinion, if I can, about this whole 
matter. It seems to me that no one, when he commits suicide 
or attempts somehow to put himself to death, really feels that 
he will not exist after he is dead, though he may have some kind 
of opinion to that effect. Opinion has to do with truth or error 
in the mind of the thinker or believer; but feeling draws its 
force from custom or nature. That we can hold an opinion and 
yet feel quite differently about a matter is easily known from 
the fact that often we believe that something should be done, 
but find pleasure in doing something else. Sometimes feeling is 
more truthful than opinion, if the latter is in error, and the 
former is dictated by nature, for example when a sick man finds 
both pleasure and advantage in drinking cold water, though he 
wrongly believes that it will hurt him if he drink it. Sometimes 
opinion is more truthful than feeling, as when a man believes 
his physician’s word that cold water will harm him (assuming it 
will be hurtful) and nevertheless finds pleasure in drinking it. 
Sometimes both are equally truthful, as when that which is 
advantageous is not only believed to be so, but is also felt to be 



ON FREE WILL 


185 

pleasurable. Sometimes both are wrong, as when that which is 
hurtful is believed to be advantageous and also gives pleasure. 
Right opinion is wont to correct wrong custom, and wrong 
opinion to pervert nature even when it is right. Such is the 
power of reason when it leads and rules. When a man who be- 
lieves that he will not exist after death is driven by intolerable 
evils to desire death with all his heart, and snatches at death, 
his opinion that he will be rid of all being is false, but so far as 
feeling is concerned he has merely a natural desire for rest. But 
what is at rest is not nothing. Indeed it has fuller being than 
what is restless. Restlessness sets the emotions one against the 
other, so that they destroy one another. But rest has a certain 
constancy, highly suggestive of what we mean when we say of a 
thing simply that it exists. The whole object of wanting to die is 
not non-existence but rest. So while such a man erroneously 
believes that he will no longer exist, his nature longs to be at 
rest, that is, to have fuller being. So, just as no one can find 
pleasure in non-existence, no one ought to be ungrateful to the 
goodness of his Creator for the fact that he has existence. 

ix, 24. If it is said: It would not have been difficult or labori- 
ous for Almighty God to have seen to it that all his creatures 
should have observed their proper order so that none of them 
should have come to misery. If he is omnipotent that would not 
have been beyond his power; and if he is good he would not 
have grudged it; this is my answer. The order of creatures pro- 
ceeds from top to bottom by just grades, so that it is the remark 
of envy to say: That creatures should not exist, and equally so 
to say: That one should be different. It is wrong to wish that 
anything should be like another thing higher in the scale, for it 
has its being, perfect in its degree, and nothing ought to be 
added to it. He who says that a thing ought to be different from 
what it is, either wants to add something to a higher creature 
already perfect, in which case he lacks moderation and justice; 
or he wants to destroy the lower creature, and is thereby wicked 
and grudging. Whoever says that any creature ought not to be 
is no less wicked and grudging, for he wants an inferior creature 
not to exist, which he really ought to praise. For example the 
moon is certainly far inferior to the sun in the brightness of its 
light, but in its own way it is beautiful, adorns earthly darkness, 
and is suited to nocturnal uses. For all these things he should 
admit that it is worthy of all praise in its own order. If he denies 
that, he is foolish and contentious. Anyone who said that there 
should be no light would feel that he deserved to be laughed at. 



186 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

How then will he dare to say there should not be a moon? If 
instead of saying that the moon should not exist he said that the 
moon ought to be like the sun, what he is really saying without 
knowing it is, not that there should be no moon, but that 
there should be two suns. In this there is a double error. He 
wants to add something to the perfection of the universe, seeing 
he desires another sun. But he also wants to take something 
from that perfection, seeing he wants to do away with the moon. 

25. Perhaps he will reply that he is not complaining about 
the moon, because though its light is less, it is not unhappy; his 
trouble does not concern the lack of lustre in souls but their 
misery. Let him carefully consider that so far as concerns the 
brightness of the moon and the sun there is no question of hap- 
piness or unhappiness. Though these are celestial bodies, they 
are none the less bodies so far as their light is concerned. For it is 
perceived by the corporeal eyes. Corporeal things in themselves, 
as such, cannot be happy or unhappy, although they can be the 
bodies of happy or unhappy creatures. But the analogy sug- 
gested from the celestial luminaries teaches us this lesson. When 
you contemplate the differences between bodies and observe 
that some are brighter than others, it is wrong to ask that the 
dimmer ones should be done away or made equal to the 
brighter ones. All must be contemplated in the light of the per- 
fection of the universe; and you will see that all differences in 
brightness contribute to the perfection of the whole. You will 
not be able to imagine a perfect universe unless it contains some 
greater things and some smaller in perfect relation one to the 
other. Similarly you must consider the differences between souls. 
In them also you will discover that the misery you lament has 
this advantage. The fact that there are souls which ought to be 
miserable because they willed to be sinful contributes to the 
perfection of the universe. So far is it from being the case that 
God ought not to have made such souls, that he ought to be 
praised for having made other creatures far inferior to miserable 
souls. 

26. But one who does not quite understand what has been 
said may have this to urge against our argument: If our being 
miserable completes the perfection of the universe, it will lose 
something of its perfection if we should become eternally happy. 
If the soul does not come to misery save by sinning, our sins 
also are necessary to the perfection of the universe which God 
has made. How then does he justly punish sins without which 
his creation could be neither complete nor perfect? The answer 



ON FREE WILL 


187 

is: Neither the sins nor the misery are necessary to the perfection 
of the universe, but souls as such are necessary which have 
power to sin if they so will, and become miserable if they sin. 
If misery persisted after their sins had been abolished, or if there 
were misery before there were sins, then it might be right to say 
that the order and government of the universe were at fault. 
Again, if there were sins and no consequent misery, that order 
is equally dishonoured by lack of equity. But since there is 
happiness for those who do not sin, the universe is perfect; and 
it is no less perfect because there is misery for sinners. Because 
there are souls whose sins are followed by misery and whose 
righteous conduct is followed by happiness — because it contains 
all kinds of natures — the universe is always complete and per- 
fect. Sin and its punishment are not natural objects but states 
of natural objects, the one voluntary, the other penal. The 
voluntary state of being sinful is dishonourable. Hence the 
penal state is imposed to bring it into order, and is therefore 
in itself not dishonourable. Indeed it compels the dishonourable 
state to become harmonized with the honour of the universe, 
so that the penalty of sin corrects the dishonour of sin. 

27. Hence it comes that the sinful creature, though superior, 
is punished through the instrumentality of inferior creatures. 
These latter are inferior but in such a way that they can be 
honoured by dishonourable souls, and so be brought into har- 
mony with the honour of the universe. There is nothing greater 
in a house than a man, and nothing lower and less honourable 
than a drain. Yet a slave who is found so sinful as to be held 
worthy of cleaning out a drain, nevertheless, dishonourable 
though he may be, does honour to the drain. The slave’s dis- 
honour and the cleansed drain together form one whole. Both 
together are adapted to the proper management of the house, and 
both contribute honourably and in perfect order to the good 
of the whole house. If the slave had not sinned by his own will 
the household management would have provided some other 
way to accomplish the necessary work of cleansing. What holds 
a lower place in the scale of being than the earthly body? But 
even a sinful soul can adorn corruptible flesh, so as to provide 
it with a comely appearance and vital motion. Such a soul, 
because of its sin, does not harmonize with a celestial habitation, 
but it harmonizes with a terrestrial habitation, because of its 
punishment. So, whatever a soul may choose, ever beautiful and 
well-ordered in all its parts is the universe whose Maker and 
Governor is God. Good souls which inhabit earthly bodies adorn 



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AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


them by making a good use of them, and not by being asso- 
ciated with them through any misery of their own, for they have 
none. But if sinful souls were allowed to inhabit celestial 
regions, it would be wrong, for they are not suited to things 
of which they cannot make a good use, and on which they can 
confer no honour. 

28. Although this earthly globe must be accounted among 
corruptible things, yet it preserves, so far as it can, the image of 
higher things, and ceases not to show us examples and traces 
of higher things. If we see some good and great man burned by 
fire, so far as his body is concerned, in obedience to the com- 
mand of duty, we do not call that the penalty of sin, but the 
evidence of courage and endurance. Though the basest corrup- 
tion consumes his bodily members, we love him more for it 
than we should if he suffered nothing of that kind. We marvel 
that his mind did not share the mutability of his body. If we see 
the members of a cruel brigand consumed by a like punish- 
ment, we approve the legal order. Both throw a certain glory 
upon their torments, but the one by the merit of his virtue, the 
other by the demerit of his sin. But suppose after or even before 
the burning we saw the good man changed in a manner agree- 
able to the celestial habitation and carried up to the stars, we 
should be glad. But who would not be offended if we saw the 
criminal brigand, either before or after his punishment but 
continuing to serve the cause of willing crime, carried to the 
eternal seat of glory in heaven? So both of them can adorn 
inferior creatures, but only one of them can adorn superior 
creatures. So are we bidden to take note that the first man 
adorned the mortality of our flesh inasmuch as his punishment 
befitted his sin; and that our Lord Jesus did so likewise, 
inasmuch as his mercy set us free from sin. The just man, 
abiding in justice, could have a mortal body. But the wicked 
man, while he continues in iniquity, cannot in the same way 
reach the immortality of the saints, that is, sublime and angelic 
immortality. I do not mean the immortality of those angels of 
whom the apostle wrote: “Know ye not that we shall judge 
angels 55 (I Cor. 6:3). But of those of whom the Lord spoke: 
“They shall be equal to the angels of God 55 (Luke 20:36). 
Those who desire equality with angels for their own vain glory 
do not really want to be themselves equal with the angels but to 
have the angels equal with them. If they persist in so willing, 
they will be made equal in punishment with the apostate angels 
who loved their own power rather than the power of Almighty 



ON FREE WILL 


189 

God. To such, placed upon his left hand because they did not 
seek God by way of the door of humility which the Lord Jesus 
Christ showed us in his own Person, and because they lived 
proudly and without mercy, he will say: u Depart into eternal 
fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). 

x, 29. There are two sources of sin, a man’s own spontaneous 
thought, and the persuasion of a neighbour. That is what the 
prophet meant when he said: “Cleanse me from my secret sins, O 
Lord, and keep thy servant from the sins of others” (Ps. 19:12-13). 
Both, however, are voluntary. The man who sins by his own 
thought does not sin unwillingly, and if he consents to one who 
persuades him to evil, he does not consent without his own will. 
It is more serious to sin by one’s own will with none persuading, 
and in addition by envy and guile to persuade another to 
sin, than to be brought to sin by the persuasion of another. 
But in both kinds of sin the justice of the Lord in punishing is 
preserved. In weighing the case equitably it was found just not 
to keep man from falling into the power even of the devil, who 
by evil persuasion had subjected man to himself. It would have 
been inequitable that he should not have had dominion over 
his captive. But it cannot be that the justice of God, most high 
and most true, which extends everywhere, should take no part 
in preserving order even after the downfall of sinners. Because 
man had sinned less than the devil, he was aided in the re- 
covery of salvation by the very fact that he had been given over 
until death to the prince of this world, that is, the lowest and 
mortal part of the universe, to the prince of all sin and the lord 
of death. Timid, as a result of his consciousness of his mortality, 
fearing sufferings and death from the vilest, most abject, even 
the most minute of beasts, and uncertain of the future, man 
accustomed himself to restrain unlawful pleasures, and espe- 
cially to curb pride which had persuaded him to his fall, a vice 
which alone refuses the medicine of mercy. Who needs mercy 
more than the miserable man; and who is less worthy of it than 
he who is at once both proud and miserable? 

30. Hence it happened that the Word of God, by whom all 
things were made and whom all the happy angels enjoy, 
stretched forth his clemency to our misery. “The Word became 
flesh and dwelt among us.” So man could eat the bread of angels. 
But man was not yet made equal to the angels, even if the Bread 
of angels did think fit to make himself the equal of men. But by 
coming; down to us he did not abandon the angels. Remaining 
at the same time one with them and one with us, he nourishes 



190 Augustine: earlier writings 

them inwardly by his divinity, and outwardly by his humanity 
he admonishes us and fits us by faith to be nourished sacra- 
mentally like the angels. The rational creature feeds upon the 
Word as its own best food. But the human soul is rational. It was 
held in penalty for its sin in mortal bonds, and was so brought 
low that by surmising from visible things it might strive to 
understand invisible things. The Food of the rational creature 
became visible, not by changing his own nature but by adapting 
it to ours, in order that he might recall those who follow visible 
things to embrace him who is invisible. So the soul, which in 
its inward pride had forsaken him, finds him again in humble 
guise in the outward world. By imitating his visible humility it 
will return to its invisible position of superiority. 

31. The Word of God, God’s only Son, assuming human 
nature, brought the devil, whom he has always had and will 
have under his own laws, under subjection to man. He extorted 
nothing from him by violence, but overcame him by the law of 
justice. For the devil, having deceived the woman, and by her 
having caused her husband to fall, claimed the entire offspring 
of the first man as subject to the law of death inasmuch as it was 
sinful. This he did with a malicious desire to do harm, but at 
the same time with absolute right, so long as his power pre- 
vailed, that is, until he slew the Just Man, in whom he could 
point out nothing worthy of death. Not only was he slain with- 
out fault, but he was also born without lust. And to lust, the 
devil had subjugated his captives, so that he might keep posses- 
sion of all born of them, as fruits of his own tree, through a 
wicked desire to hold them, but also by a just right of possession. 
Most justly, therefore, is the devil compelled to give up those 
who believe in him whom he unjustly slew. In that they suffer 
temporal death, they pay what they owe. In that they live 
eternally, they live in him who paid on their behalf what he did 
not owe. But those whom the devil has persuaded to persist in 
unbelief, he is justly allowed to keep as his companions in 
eternal damnation. So man was not snatched from the devil by 
force, seeing that the devil had taken him captive not by force 
but by persuasion. And man, who was justly brought low so as 
to serve him to whose evil persuasion he had consented, was 
justly set free by him to whose good persuasion he had con- 
sented. All this is in accordance with justice because man sinned 
less in consenting than the devil sinned by persuading him 
to sin. 

xi, 32. God, therefore, made all natures, not only those 



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191 

which were to abide in virtue and justice, but also those that 
were to sin. He did not make them in order that they might sin, 
but that whether they willed to sin or not to sin they might be 
ornaments of his universe. If there were no souls occupying the 
highest rank in the universe, such as would have power to shake 
and weaken the universe if they should choose to fall into sin, 
that would be a great defect in creation. That would be lacking 
which secures the stability and unity of the universe. Such are 
the good and holy and sublime souls of the powers celestial and 
super-celestial, over whom God alone rules, and to whom 
the whole world is subject. Without their just and perfect offices 
there can be no universe. Again if there were no souls who, 
whether by sinning or not sinning, make no difference to the 
order of the universe, again there would be a grave defect. 
These are rational souls like in nature to those that are better 
but unlike in office. Besides these, there are many inferior but 
praiseworthy degrees of creatures all made by God most high. 

33. This is the nature of those who hold the highest rank. The 
order of the universe would suffer loss if they did not exist and 
also if they sinned. In the case of those who hold a lower rank 
the loss would be caused by their non-existence, not by their 
sinning. To the former is given the potency to keep all things in 
their proper order, and without that the order of things cannot 
continue. But they do not continue in the good will because 
they received that office. Rather they received the office because 
he who gave it foresaw that they would so continue. Nor do 
they keep all things in the proper order by their own majesty, 
but because they cleave to the majesty and devotedly obey the 
commands of him by whom, through whom and in whom all 
things are made. To the latter also, if they do not sin, is given 
the potent office of keeping things in order, but it is not given to 
them as their own. They must fulfil it in alliance with the higher 
beings, because God knows beforehand that they will sin. 
Spiritual natures can be joined together without being in- 
creased in mass, and separated without being decreased. The 
higher beings do not have their action made any easier by the 
assistance of the lower beings, nor does their action become 
more difficult if the lower beings desert their duty by sinning. 
For they are not joined together by space or bodily mass but by 
similarity of affection. And spiritual creatures can be separated 
by lack of likeness one to another though each possesses its 
own body. 

34. When sin has been committed the soul, which has its 



ig2 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

abode by God’s order in an inferior and a mortal body, rules its 
own body not according to its own whim, but as the laws of the 
universe allow. But such a soul is not inferior to a celestial body, 
though earthly bodies are inferior to celestial bodies. The 
ragged garment of a condemned slave is much inferior to the 
garment of a slave who has deserved well and is held in high 
honour by his master. But the slave is better than any garment 
however precious, because he is a man. The soul of higher 
nature inhabiting a celestial body and enjoying angelic power 
adheres to God and adorns and rules even an earthly body 
according to the commands of him whose nod it ineffably ob- 
serves. But the soul that is burdened with mortal members has 
difficulty in ruling the body that oppresses it, and yet it adorns 
it as far as it is able. Other things by which it is surrounded it 
can affect, as it has the power, but its power is vastly weaker. 

xii, 35. The conclusion is that even the lowest corporeal 
creature would not have lacked a fitting ornament, even if no 
soul had willed to sin. That which can rule the whole also rules 
the part; but that which has less power certainly cannot exer- 
cise more abundant power. The perfect physician can efficaci- 
ously cure the scab. But one who can give useful advice in a case 
of the scab cannot forthwith heal every disease of mankind. If 
there is any certain reason why there ought to have been 
creatures which have never sinned nor ever will, it will also 
make clear that they refrained from sin by their own free will. 
They were not compelled not to sin. They remained sinless by 
choice. But even if they had sinned (but that was impossible 
because God knew beforehand that they would not) . . . even 
if they had sinned, God’s ineffable power would have been 
sufficient to rule the universe, to render to all what was right 
and fitting, and to permit nothing base or dishonourable 
throughout his whole dominion. Even if all the powers he 
created to help him failed him, even if angelic nature had sinned 
and rebelled against his commandments, he would still by his 
own majesty rule all things honourably and perfectly. He would 
not grudge existence to spiritual creatures, who has made cor- 
poreal creatures though they are far inferior even to sinful 
spiritual creatures. So great is his goodness that no one can 
reasonably view the heaven and the earth, and all visible 
natures in their kinds, measured, formed, ordered, and believe 
that there is any other creator of all these things but God, or 
refuse to confess that he is to be ineffably praised. There is no 
better way of ordering the universe than that angelic nature 



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193 

should have pre-eminence by reason of the excellence of its 
nature and the goodness of its will. But even if all the angels had 
sinned the Creator of angels would not have lacked resources for 
the government of his dominion. No weariness would have pre- 
vented his goodness, and no difficulty his omnipotence, from 
creating; others to set in the places of those who by sinning 
abandoned them. And no multitude of spiritual creatures con- 
demned for their demerits could throw into confusion an order 
which has a proper and suitable place for as many as are 
damned. In whatever direction we turn our attention we find 
that God is to be ineffably praised who is the best Creator of all 
natures, and their most just Ruler. 

xiii, 36. In conclusion, let us leave the contemplation of the 
beauty of things to those who have the divine gift of seeing it. 
Do not let us try with words to induce those who have not the 
power to behold ineffable things. And yet because there are 
loquacious, weak or guileful men, let us briefly summarize our 
answer to this great problem. Any nature that can become less 
good, must be good. A nature becomes less good when it is cor- 
rupted. Either corruption does it no hurt and it is not corrupted; 
or, if it is corrupted, corruption hurts it. If it hurts it, it takes 
away some of its good and makes it less good. If it entirely de- 
prives it of good, what remains will not be able to be corrupted, 
for there will be no good left which corruption can take away so 
as to do hurt. Nothing is corrupted if corruption can do it no 
hurt. A nature which is not corrupted is incorruptible. So there 
will be a nature which by corruption is rendered incorruptible; 
which is utterly absurd. Therefore, it is true to say that any 
nature, so far as it is such, is good. If it is incorruptible it is 
better than what is corruptible. But if it is corruptible it is 
doubtless good since it becomes less good as the process of cor- 
ruption goes on. Every nature is corruptible or incorruptible. 
Therefore every nature is good. And by “a nature” I mean 
what is also usually called a substance. Every substance is 
either God or comes from God, because every good thing is 
either Grod or from God. 

37. These principles being established at the beginning of 
our discourse, listen to what I am going to say. Every rational 
nature endowed with free will is indubitably to be praised if it 
abide in the enjoyment of the chief and changeless good. Every- 
one that seeks so to abide is also to be praised. But every one 
that does not abide in the chief good and does not will so to act 
that it may abide in it, is so far and on that account to be 

A.E.W. 13 



194 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

blamed. If a created rational nature is to be praised, no one can 
doubt that its creator is also to be praised. If it is to be blamed, 
no doubt even by blaming it its creator is praised. If we blame 
it because it will not enjoy the highest and unchanging good, 
that is, its creator, clearly we are praising him. How great is 
that chief good ! And how ineffably by every tongue and every 
thought is God the Creator of all things to be honoured and 
praised! For we can be neither praised nor blamed without 
praise being given to him. The only reason for blaming us for 
not abiding in him is that to abide in him is our first and 
greatest and highest good. How so, if it be not that he is in- 
effably good? And how can he be blamed for our sins, seeing 
there can be no blame for our sins which does not imply his 
praise? 

38. In things which are blamed nothing is blamed but their 
fault. And nothing has a fault to be blamed if it has not a nature 
to be praised. Either what you blame is natural and not a fault, 
and you are to be taught to correct your fault-finding. Or, if it 
is really a fault and rightly to be blamed, it must be contrary to 
nature. Every fault, by the very fact that it is a fault, is contrary 
to nature. It is no fault if it does no damage to nature. If it does 
damage, it is for that reason alone a fault, and, therefore, it is a 
fault because it is contrary to nature. If a nature is corrupted by 
another’s fault and not by its own, it is unjust to blame it, and 
we must inquire whether the other nature is not corrupted by 
its own fault whereby it has the power to corrupt another nature. 
What is it to be vitiated, if not to be corrupted by vice or fault? 
A nature which is not vitiated has no fault. But it has a fault if 
another nature can be vitiated by it. Hence anything that has 
the power to corrupt another thing with its own fault is itself 
vitiated to begin with and corrupts with its own fault. Hence 
we conclude that all fault or vice is contrary to nature, contrary 
also to the nature of the thing to which the fault originally 
belongs. Nothing is blamed in anything except vice or fault, 
and vice is vice precisely because it is contrary to the nature of 
the thing in which it is found. Therefore a fault is not rightly 
blamed without at the same time praising the nature in which 
the fault is found. You have no right to be displeased with a 
fault except in so far as it vitiates a nature that pleases you. 

xiv, 39. Now we must see whether a nature can be truly 
said to be corrupted by another’s vice without any vice of its 
own. If one thing approaches another in order to corrupt it 
with its own vice, it cannot do so unless it finds something there 



ON FREE WILL 


195 

which is capable of being corrupted. If it finds that, it can then 
bring about the corruption by means of its own vice. The 
stronger cannot be corrupted by the weaker unless it is willing 
to be corrupted. If it is willing, the corruption starts with its 
own vice and not with the vice of the other. Similarly an equal 
cannot be corrupted by its equal unless it is willing. A vitiated 
nature, attacking one that is free from vice, is not its equal, but 
is weaker by reason of its own vice. If the stronger corrupts the 
weaker, then either it is by the vice of both of them, there being 
base desire in both; or it is by the vice of the stronger, if its 
nature is so outstanding that even when vitiated it excels that 
of the weaker which it corrupts. How could one rightly blame 
the fruits of the earth because men do not make a good use of 
them, but, being themselves corrupt by their own fault, corrupt 
these fruits by abusing them in the interests of luxury? For it 
would be madness to doubt that man’s nature, even when 
vitiated, is more powerful and more excellent than that of any 
of the fruits of the earth, even if they are without fault. 

40. It may happen that a more powerful nature corrupts a 
less powerful one with no fault on either side, if by fault we 
mean that which is worthy of blame. Who would venture to 
blame a frugal man who sought from the fruits of the earth no 
more than his natural nourishment? Or who would blame these 
fruits for being corrupted through use as food? Correct usage 
does not speak of that as corruption, for the accepted meaning 
of corruption, generally speaking, makes it a synonym for vice. It 
is easy to find examples of a stronger nature corrupting a weaker 
one even without using it to supply its own needs. In the order 
of justice, for example, guilt is punished. This is the rule to 
which the apostle refers when he says: “If anyone corrupts the 
Temple of God, him will God corrupt” (I Gor. 3:17). Or, 
again, in the order of mutable things, one thing gives place 
to another according to the most fitting laws imposed upon 
the universe, regulating the strength of every part. If the 
brightness of the sun destroys anyone’s eyes because they are 
too weak to endure the light, the sun cannot be thought to do 
so in order to supply any need of its own; nor does it do so through 
any fault of its own. Nor are the eyes to be blamed, for they 
obeyed their possessor when they were opened in face of the 
light, or they were destroyed through being too weak to bear 
the light. Of all kinds of corruption, that only is rightly to be 
blamed which is vicious. Other kinds are not even to be called 
by that name, or, at any rate, cannot be property blamed 



196 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

since they are not vicious. Blame is applicable, that is, right 
and fitting, in the case of vice alone. Hence it is supposed to 
derive its name ( vituperatio ) from vitium. 

41. Now, as I said, vice is evil for no other reason than that it 
is hostile to the nature of the thing in which it exists as a fault. 
Hence clearly the thing itself is by nature praiseworthy, though 
the fault in it is blameworthy. So we must confess that all 
vituperation of vices is actually praise of the natures whose 
vices are blamed. Because vice is the enemy of nature, the evil 
of a vice is greater in proportion to the damage done to the 
integrity of the nature. When you blame a vice you thereby 
praise the thing which you would like to see undamaged. You 
praise the nature of the thing regarded in its integrity. Nature 
is perfect. Not only is it free from blame but it deserves praise 
in its own order. If you see anything lacking in the perfection of 
nature you call it a vice or fault. By the very fact that you blame 
its imperfection you bear witness that you would be pleased 
with it if only it were perfect. 

xv, 42. If blame of vices is praise of the honour and dignity 
of the natures of which these are vices, how much more is God 
to be praised even though there be these vices, for he is the 
Maker of all natures. From him they derive their being as 
natures, and they are vicious in so far as they depart from his 
purpose in creating them. They are rightly blamed in so far as 
he who blames them sees the purpose in creating them and 
blames only that which is no longer to be seen in them. The 
Purpose with which they were all created, that is, the supreme 
and unchangeable Wisdom of God, truly and supremely is what 
he is. See, then, whither things tend which depart from him. 
But that defection would not be blameworthy if it were not 
voluntary. Would you be right in blaming anything which is as 
it ought to be? I should think not. It is to be blamed for not be- 
ing as it ought. No one owes what he has not received. To whom 
is a debt owed, if not to him from whom something has been 
received? Things returned by bequest are returned to him who 
made the bequest. What is paid back to the legal successors of a 
creditor is really paid back to the original creditor in the persons 
of his legal successors; otherwise there would be no paying back, 
but a simple surrender of goods or a passing on of an inherit- 
ance, or whatever other name can be given to such a procedure. 
Wherefore all temporal things are so placed in this temporal 
order that they must come to an end if the future is to succeed 
to the past, allowing the whole beauty of things in their tem- 



ON FREE WILL 


197 

poral sequence to be displayed. It would be most absurd to say 
that they should not come to an end. What they have received 
they traffic with and pay back to him to whom, they owe their 
being in so far as it is being. Whoever laments that temporal 
things should come to an end should observe his own speaking. 
Take for example his lamentation, which no doubt he thinks is 
just and proceeds from prudence. So far as the sounds are con- 
cerned which he utters in making it, one has to come to an end 
and be followed by another so that the whole speech may be 
made. If anyone loved one particular sound and did not want 
it to cease and give place to the others, he would be adjudged 
astonishingly mad. 

43- I n things which come to an end because it is not given 
them to last any longer, so that all things may happen in their 
due times, no one has the right to find fault with their coming 
to an end. No one can say: It ought to abide, for it cannot pass 
its appointed bounds. In rational creatures, whether they sin or 
do not sin, the beauty of the universe reaches its appropriate 
limit. In them, either there are no sins, which is absurd (for he 
sins who condemns as sins what are not sins) ; or sins are not to 
be blamed, which is no less absurd, for wrong actions will begin 
to be praised and the whole purpose of the human mind will be 
thrown into confusion and human life will be subverted, or 
right action be blamed and execrable madness will arise, or, to 
use a milder expression, a miserable error. If right reason com- 
pels us, as it does, to blame sins and to blame them because 
they ought not to be what they are, ask yourself what debt sin- 
ful nature owes, and the answer will be: Right action. Ask your- 
self to whom it owes the debt, and the answer will be: God. 
From God it received the power to act rightly when it would. 
From him also it received the alternatives, misery if it acts un- 
righteously, happiness if it acts righteously. 

44 . No man can overcome the laws of the omnipotent 
Creator. Therefore it is not permitted to the soul to escape pay- 
ment of its debt. It pays it by making a good use of what it has 
received, or by losing what it was unwilling to make a good use 
of. If it does not pay its debt by doing what it ought, it will pay 
it by suffering misery. In either case the word obligation is in 
order, so we could thus amplify what we said. If it does not pay 
its debt by doing what it ought, it will pay it by suffering what 
it ought to suffer. There is no interval of time between failure 
to do what ought to be done and suffering what ought to be 
suffered, lest for a single moment the beauty of the universe 



I98 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

should be defiled by having the uncomeliness of sin without the 
comeliness of penalty. What is now not punished openly is 
reserved for future judgment, that the misery imposed may 
become manifest and be most sharply felt. He who is not awake 
is asleep. In the same way, he who does not do what he ought 
immediately suffers what he ought. For such is the happiness of 
doing justly that no one can depart from it without immediately 
finding misery. In all deficiencies the things which are defec- 
tive have not received power to last longer, if they have no 
guilt. Likewise there is no guilt if they are what they are because 
they did not receive power to have an ampler existence. Or 
they may be unwilling to be what they have been given power 
to be if they would; and because they have the power to be good 
there is guilt if they will not. 

45. God owes nothing to any man, for he gives everything 
gratuitously. If anyone says God owes him something for his 
merits, God did not even owe him existence. Nothing could be 
owing to one who did not yet exist. And what merit is there in 
turning to him from whom you derive existence, that you may 
be made better by him from whom you derive existence? Why 
do you ask him for anything as if you were demanding repay- 
ment of a debt? If you were unwilling to turn to him, the loss 
would not be his but yours. For without him you would be 
nothing, and from him you derive such existence as you have; 
but on condition that, unless you turn to him, you must pay 
him back the existence you have from him, and become, not 
indeed nothing, but miserable. All things owe him, first, their 
existence so far as they are natural things, and secondly, that 
they can become better if they wish, receiving additional gifts 
if they wish them and being what they ought to be. No man is 
guilty because he has not received this or that power. But be- 
cause he does not do as he ought he is justly held guilty. 
Obligation arises if he has received free will and sufficient power. 

46. No blame attaches to the Creator if any of his creatures 
does not do what he ought. Indeed, that the wrong-doer suffers 
as he ought redounds to the praise of the Creator. In the very 
act of blaming anyone for not doing as he ought, he is praised 
to whom the debt is owed. If you are praised for seeing what you 
ought to do, and you only see it in him who is unchangeable 
truth, how much more is he to be praised who has taught you 
what you ought to wish, has given you the power to do it, and 
has not allowed you to refuse to do it with impunity? If “ought- 
ness” depends upon what has been given, and man has been so 



ON FREE WILL 


199 

made that he sins by necessity, then he ought to sin. So when he 
sins he does what he ought. But it is wicked to speak like that. 
No man’s nature compels him to sin, nor does any other nature. 
No man sins when he suffers what he does not wish. If he has to 
suffer justly he does not sin in suffering unwillingly. He sinned 
in that he did something voluntarily which involved him in 
suffering justly what he did not wish. If he suffers unjustly, 
where is the sin? There is no sin in suffering something unjustly 
but in doing something unjustly. So, if no one is compelled to 
sin either by his own nature or by another, it remains that he 
sins by his own will. If you want to attribute his sin to the 
Creator you will make the sinner guiltless because he has simply 
obeyed the laws of the Creator. If the sinner can be rightly de- 
fended he is not a sinner, and there is no sin to attribute to the 
Creator. Let us then praise the Creator whether or not the sin- 
ner can be defended. If he is justly defended he is no sinner and 
we can therefore praise the Creator. If he cannot be defended, 
he is a sinner so far as he turns away from the Creator. There- 
fore praise the Creator. I find, therefore, no way at all, and I 
assert that there is none to be found, by which our sins can be 
ascribed to the Creator, our God. I find that he is to be praised 
even for sins, not only because he punishes them, but also 
because sin arises only when a man departs from his truth. 

Evodius . — I most gladly approve all you have said, and assent 
with all my heart to the truth that there is no way at all of 
rightly ascribing our sins to our Creator, xvii, 47. But I 
should like to know, if possible, why those beings do not sin 
whom God knew beforehand would not sin, and why those 
others do sin whom he foresaw would sin. I do not now think 
that God’s foreknowledge compels the one to sin and the other 
not to sin. But if there were no cause rational creatures would 
not be divided into classes as they are: those who never sin, 
those who continually sin, and the intermediary class of those 
who sometimes sin and sometimes are turned towards well- 
doing. What is the reason for this division? I do not want you 
to reply that it is the will that does it. What I want to know is 
what cause lies behind willing. There must be some reason why 
one class never wills to sin, another never lacks the will to sin, 
and another sometimes wills to sin and at other times does not 
so will. For they are all alike in nature. I seem to see that there 
must be some cause for this three-fold classification of rational 
beings according to their wills, but what it is I do not know. 

48. Augustine . — Since will is the cause of sin, you now ask 



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what is the cause of will. If I could find one, are you not going 
to ask for the cause of the cause I have found? What limit will 
there be to your quest, what end to inquiry and explanation? 
You ought not to push your inquiry deeper, for you must be- 
ware of imagining that anything can be more truly said than 
that which is written: “Avarice is the root of all evils” (I Tim. 
6:10), that is, wanting more than is sufficient. That is sufficient 
which is demanded by the need of preserving any particular 
creature. Avarice, in Greek philarguria , derives its name from 
argentum [silver], because among the ancients coins were made 
of silver or more frequently with an admixture of silver. But 
avarice must be understood as connected not only with silver 
and money but with everything which is immoderately desired, 
in every case where a man wants more than is sufficient. Such 
avarice is cupidity, and cupidity is an evil will. An evil will, 
therefore, is the cause of all evils. If it were according to nature 
it would preserve nature and not be hostile to it, and so it would 
not be evil. The inference is that the root of all evils is not 
according to nature. That is sufficient answer to all who want 
to accuse nature. But you ask what is the cause of this root. 
How then will it be the root of all evils? If it has a cause, that 
cause will be the root of evil. And if you find a cause, as I said, 
you will ask for a cause of that cause, and there will be no limit 
to your inquiry. 

49. But what cause of willing can there be which is prior to 
willing? Either it is a will, in which case we have not got beyond 
the root of evil will. Or it is not a will, and in that case there is 
no sin in it. Either, then, will is itself the first cause of sin, or the 
first cause is without sin. Now sin is rightly imputed only to 
that which sins, nor is it rightly imputed unless it sins volun- 
tarily. I do not know why you should want to inquire further, 
but here is a further point. If there is a cause of willing it is 
either just or unjust. If it is just, he who obeys it will not sin, if 
unjust he who does not obey it will not sin either. 

xviii, 50. But it may perhaps be violent, and compel him 
against his will? Are we to repeat our reply over and over again? 
Remember how much we have spoken earlier about sin and free 
will. Perhaps it is difficult to commit everything to memory, but 
hold fast to this brief statement. Whatever be the cause of 
willing, if it cannot be resisted no sin results from yielding to it. 
If it can be resisted, and it is not yielded to, no sin results. Pos- 
sibly it may deceive a man when he is off his guard? Let him 
then take care not to be deceived. Is the deception so great that 



ON FREE WILL 


201 


he cannot possibly avoid it? In that case no sin results? No one 
commits sin in doing what there was no means of avoiding? Yes, 
indeed, sin does result, and that means he is able to be on his 
guard. 

51. Nevertheless, some things are done in ignorance which are 
held to be wrong and worthy of correction, as we read in the 
divinely authoritative books. The apostle says: “I obtained 
mercy because I did it in ignorance” (I Tim. 1:13). And the 
prophet says: “Remember not the sins of my youth and of my 
ignorance” (Ps. 25:7). Wrong things are done by necessity when 
a man wills to do right and has not the power. For thus it is 
written: “The good that I would I do not:, but the evil which I 
would not, that I do.” Again: “To will is present with me; but 
how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18-19). 
And again: “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit 
against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other, so 
that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17). These 
are the words of men emerging from deadly damnation. If this 
were a description of man’s nature and not of the penalty of 
sin, his situation would not be sinful. If man has not departed 
from the natural state in which he was created, and which 
could not be made better, he is doing what he ought even when 
he does evil. But now man might be good if he were different. 
Because he is what he now is, he is not good, nor is it in his 
power to become good, either because he does not see what he 
ought to be, or, seeing it, has not the power to be what he sees 
he ought to be. Who can doubt that his is a penal state? Every 
just penalty is the penalty of sin and is called punishment. If 
the penalty is unjust, there is no doubt that it is, in fact, penalty, 
but it has been imposed on man by some unjust power that 
lords it over him. But it is mad to have any doubt about the 
omnipotence or the justice of God. Therefore man’s penalty is 
just and is recompense for sin. No unjust lord could have 
usurped dominion over man, as it were, without the knowledge 
of God. No one could have forced him in his weakness against his 
will either by terrorism or by actual affliction, so that man’s 
punishment might be held to be unjust. It remains, therefore, 
that his punishment is just and comes to him because he is to be 
condemned. 

52. It is not to be wondered at that man, through ignorance, 
has not the freedom of will to choose to do what he ought; or 
that he cannot see what he ought to do or fulfil it when he will, 
in face of carnal custom which, in a sense, has grown as strong, 



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almost, as nature, because of the power of mortal succession. 
It is the most just penalty of sin that man should lose what he 
was unwilling to make a good use of, when he could have done 
so without difficulty if he had wished. It is just that he who, 
knowing what is right, does not do it should lose the capacity to 
to know what is right, and that he who had the power to do 
what is right and would not should lose the power to do it when 
he is willing. In fact there are for every sinful soul these two 
penal conditions, ignorance and difficulty. From ignorance 
springs disgraceful error, and from difficulty comes painful 
effort. To approve falsehood instead of truth so as to err in 
spite of himself, and not to be able to refrain from the works of 
lust because of the pain involved in breaking away from fleshly 
bonds: these do not belong to the nature of man as he was 
created. They are the penalty of man as condemned. When we 
speak of the freedom of the will to do right, we are speaking of 
the freedom wherein man was created. 

xix, 53. Here comes in the question which men, who are 
ready to accuse anything for their sins except themselves, are 
wont to cast up, murmuring amongst themselves. They say: If 
Adam and Eve sinned, what have we miserable creatures done 
to deserve to be born in the darkness of ignorance and in the 
toils of difficulty, that, in the first place, we should err not 
knowing what we ought to do, and, in the second place, that 
when the precepts of justice begin to be opened out to us, we 
should wish to obey them but by some necessity of carnal lust 
should not have the power? To them I reply: Keep quiet and 
stop murmuring against God. They might perhaps rightly 
complain if no man had ever been victorious over error and 
lust. And yet there is One present everywhere who, in many 
ways, by means of the creation that serves him as its Lord, calls 
back him who has gone astray, teaches him who believes, com- 
forts him who has hope, exhorts the diligent, helps him who is 
trying and answers prayer. You are not held guilty because you 
are ignorant in spite of yourself, but because you neglect to 
seek the knowledge you do not possess. You are not held guilty 
because you do not use your wounded members but because 
you despise him who is willing to heal them. These are your 
own personal sins. To no man is it given to know how to seek 
to his advantage what to his disadvantage he does not know. 
He must humbly confess his weakness, so that as he seeks and 
makes his confession he may come to his aid who, in aiding, 
knows neither error nor difficulty. 



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203 

54. All that a man does wrongfully in ignorance, and all that 
he cannot do rightly though he wishes, are called sins because 
they have their origin in the first sin of the will when it was free. 
These are its deserved consequences. We apply the name 
“tongue” not only to the member which we move in our mouth 
when we speak, but also to what follows from that motion, 
namely, words and language. Thus we speak of the Greek or 
the Latin tongue. So we apply the word “sin” not only to that 
which is properly called sin, that is, what is committed know- 
ingly and with free will, but also to all that follows as the 
necessary punishment of that first sin. So we use the word 
“nature” in a double sense. Properly speaking, human nature 
means the blameless nature with which man was originally 
created. But we also use it in speaking of the nature with which 
we are born mortal, ignorant and subject to the flesh, which is 
really the penalty of sin. In this sense the apostle says: “We also 
were by nature children of wrath even as others” (Eph. 2:3). 

xx, 55. As we are born from the first pair to a mortal life of 
ignorance and toil because they sinned and fell into a state of 
error, misery and death, so it most justly pleased the most high 
God, Governor of all things, to manifest from the beginning, 
from man’s origin, his justice in exacting punishment, and in 
human history his mercy in remitting punishment. When the 
first man was condemned, happiness was not so completely 
taken from him that he lost also his fecundity. Though his off- 
spring was carnal and mortal, yet in its own way it could con- 
tribute some glory and ornament to the earth. That he should 
beget children better than himself would not have been equit- 
able. But if any of Adam’s race should be willing to turn to God, 
and so overcome the punishment which had been merited by 
the original turning away from God, it was fitting not only that 
he should not be hindered but that he should also receive divine 
aid. In this way also the Creator showed how easily man might 
have retained, if he had so willed, the nature with which he was 
created, because his offspring had power to transcend that in 
which he was born. 

56. Again, if only one soul was originally created, and the 
souls of all men since born derive their origin from it, who can 
say that he did not sin when the first man sinned? If how- 
ever souls are created separately in individual men as they are 
born, it appears not to be unreasonable but rather most appro- 
priate and in accordance with right order that the ill desert of 
an earlier soul should determine the nature of those which are 



204 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

created afterwards, and that by its goodness a soul later created 
should deserve to regain the state which the earlier one had 
lost. There would be .nothing unworthy about it if the Creator 
had determined to show in this way that the soul so far excelled 
in dignity every corporeal creature that one soul could start 
from the position to which another had fallen. The sinful soul 
reached an estate of ignorance and toil, which is rightly called 
penalty, because before the penalty it had been better. Even if 
a soul, before it sinned and even before it was born, was given 
a nature like that which another acquired after a guilty life, it 
has no small good for which to give thanks to its Creator, for 
even in its inchoate beginning it is better than any body how- 
ever perfect. These are no mean advantages, not only to be a 
soul and so naturally to excel all bodies, but also to have the 
power with the aid of the Creator to cultivate itself, and with 
pious care to acquire all the virtues by which it may be 
liberated both from tormenting toil and from blinding ignor- 
ance. If that.is so in the case of souls that are born, ignorance 
and toil will not be punishment for sin but a warning to im- 
prove themselves, and the beginning of their perfecting. It is 
no small thing to have been given, before there has been any 
merit gained by any good work, the natural power to discern 
that wisdom is to be preferred to error and tranquillity to toil, 
and to know that these good things are to be reached not simply 
by being born but by earnestly seeking them. But if the soul will 
not act in this way it will rightly be held guilty of sin for not 
making a good use of the power it has received. Though it is 
born in ignorance and toilsomeness there is no necessity for it to 
remain in that state. Indeed it could not exist were not 
Almighty God the Creator of such souls. For before he was 
loved he made them. In love he restores them. And being loved 
he perfects them. To souls which do not yet exist he gives 
existence; and to those who love him who gives them existence 
he gives happiness too. 

57. If, on the other hand, souls pre-exist in some secret place 
and are sent out to quicken and rule the bodies of individuals 
when they are born, their mission is to govern well the body 
which is born under the penalty of the sin of the first man, that 
is, mortality. They are to discipline it with the virtues, and sub- 
ject it to an orderly and legitimate servitude, so that in due 
order and in the due time men may attain the place of heavenly 
perfection. When they enter this life and submit to wearing 
mortal members these souls must also undergo forgetfulness of 



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205 

their former existence and the labours of their present existence, 
with consequent ignorance and toil which in the first man were 
a punishment involving mortality and completing the misery of 
the soul. But for these souls ignorance and toil are opportunities 
for ministering to the restoration of the integrity of the body. 
The flesh coming from a sinful stock causes this ignorance and 
toil to infect the souls sent to it. Only in this sense are they to be 
called sins, and the blame for them is to be ascribed neither to the 
souls nor to their Creator. For he has given them power to do 
good in difficult duties, and has provided for them the way of 
faith where oblivion had brought blindness. Also and above all, 
he has given them the insight which every soul possesses; that it 
must seek to know what to its disadvantage it does not know, 
and that it must persevere in burdensome duties and strive to 
overcome the difficulty of well-doing, and implore the Creator’s 
aid in its efforts. By the law without and by direct address to 
the heart within, he has commanded that effort be made, and 
he has prepared the glory of the Blessed City for those who 
triumph over the devil, who with wicked persuasion overcame 
the first man and reduced him to his state of misery. That 
misery these souls undergo in lively faith in order to overcome 
the devil. No little glory is to be gained from the campaign to 
overcome the devil, waged by undergoing the punishment 
which he glories in having brought upon his victim, man. 
Whoever yields to love of the present life and takes no part in 
that campaign can by no means justly attribute the shame of 
his desertion to the command of his king. Rather the Lord of 
all will appoint his place with the devil, because he loved the 
base hire wherewith he bought his desertion. 

58. But if souls existing in some place are not sent by the 
Lord God, but come of their own accord to inhabit bodies, it 
is easy to see that any ignorance or toil which is the consequence 
of their own choice cannot in any way be ascribed as blame to 
the Creator. He would be entirely without blame. If we accept 
the view that he himself sent souls, he did not take from them 
even in the state of ignorance and toil their freedom to ask and 
seek and endeavour, and was ever ready to give to those who 
ask, to demonstrate to those who seek and to open to those who 
knock. Similarly, on this other view, he would allow conquest 
over ignorance and difficulty on the part of earnest and right- 
minded souls to count as a crown of glory. He would not lay the 
ignorance or the difficulty to the charge of the negligent or of 
those who wished to defend their sins on the ground of their 



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infirmity. But he would justly punish them because they would 
rather abide in ignorance and difficulty than reach truth and a 
life free from struggle by zeal in seeking and learning, and by 
humility in prayer and confession. 

xxi, 59. Now there are these four opinions about the origin 
of the soul, viz., that it comes by propagation, that it is newly 
created with each individual who is born, that it exists some- 
where beforehand and comes into the body of the newly-born 
either being divinely sent or gliding in of its own accord. None 
of these views may be rashly affirmed. Either that question, 
because of its obscurity and perplexity, has not been handled 
and illumined by catholic commentators on Holy Writ. Or, if 
it has been done, their writings have not come into our hands. 
God give us a true faith that will hold no false or unworthy 
opinion concerning the substance of the Creator. For by the 
path of piety we are wending our way towards him. If we hold 
any other opinion concerning him than the true one, our zeal 
will drive us not to beatitude but to vanity. There is no danger 
if we hold a wrong opinion about the creature, provided we do 
not hold it as if it were assured knowledge. We are not bidden 
to turn to the creature in order to be happy, but to the Creator 
himself. If we are persuaded to think otherwise of him than we 
ought to think or otherwise than what is true we are deceived 
by most deadly error. No man can reach the happy life by 
making for that which is not, or, if it does exist, does not make 
men happy. 

60. That we may be able to enjoy and cleave to eternal truth 
in contemplation, a way out of temporalities has been prepared 
for our weakness, so that we may trust the past and the future 
so far as is sufficient for our journey towards eternal things. 
The discipline of faith is governed by the divine mercy, so that 
it may have supreme authority. Things present are perceived 
as transient so far as the creature is concerned. They consist in 
the mobility and mutability of body and soul. Of these things 
we cannot have any kind of knowledge unless they enter into 
our experience. If we are told on divine authority about the 
past or the future of any created thing we are to believe it with- 
out hesitation. No doubt some of this was past before we could 
have perceived it. Some of it has not yet reached our senses. 
Nevertheless we are to believe it, for it helps to strengthen our 
hope and call forth our love, inasmuch as it reminds us, 
through the ordered temporal series, that God does not neglect 
our liberation. If any error assumes the role of divine authority 



ON FREE WILL 


207 

it is most reasonably refuted, if it is shown to hold or to 
affirm that there is any mutable form that is not the creation of 
God, or that there is any mutability in the substance of God; or 
if it contends that the substance of God is more or less than 
a Trinity. To understand that Trinity soberly and piously 
occupies all the watchful care of Christians, and that is the goal 
of every advance. Concerning the unity of the Trinity and the 
equality of persons and the properties of each, this is not the 
place to discourse. To relate some things which pertain to saving 
faith and which concern the Lord our God, Author and Maker 
and Governor of all things, may give useful support to a child- 
like incipient purpose to rise from earthly to heavenly things. 
That is easy to do and it has already been done by many. But 
to handle the whole question so as to bring all human intelli- 
gence into the light of clear reason, as far as possible in this life, 
does not seem an easy task for any man’s eloquence or even for 
any man’s thought, much less ours. It is therefore not to be 
lightly attempted. Let us go on with what we have begun, so 
far as we have the permission and the help of God. All that we 
are told of past events concerning the creation, and all that is 
foretold concerning the future is to be believed without hesita- 
tion, because it helps to commend pure religion by stimulating 
in us sincere love to God and our neighbour. It is to be defended 
against unbelievers, either by wearing down their unbelief with 
the weight of authority, or by showing them, as far as possible, 
first, that it is not foolish to believe it, and, secondly, that it is 
foolish not to believe it. But false doctrine, not about past or 
future events so much as about the present and above all about 
unchangeable things, must be convincingly refuted by clear 
reasoning, so far as it is granted to us. 

6 1 . Of course when we are thinking of the series of temporal 
things, expectation of things to come is more important than 
research into things past. In the divine books also past events 
are narrated, but they carry with them the forecast or promise 
or attestation of things to come. In fact no one pays much atten- 
tion to temporal prosperity or adversity when they are past. 
All anxiety and care are bestowed on what is hoped for in the 
future. By some intimate and natural mechanism of the mind 
things which have happened to us, after they are past, are 
accounted, in any reckoning of felicity and misery, as if they 
had never happened. What disadvantage is it to me not to know 
when I began to be, when I know that I exist now and do 
not cease to hope that I shall continue to exist? I am not so 



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interested in the past as to dread as deadly error any false opinion 
I may entertain as to what actually transpired. But as to my 
future I direct my course, guided by the mercy of my Maker. 
But if I have any false belief or opinion about my future, or 
about him with whom I am to be for ever, I must with all my 
might beware of that error. Otherwise I shall not make the 
necessary preparation, or I shall not be able to reach him who 
is the objective of my enterprise, because my outlook has been 
confused. If I were buying a garment it would be no disadvan- 
tage to me to have forgotten last winter, but it would be a dis- 
advantage if I did not believe that cold weather was coming on. 
So it would be no disadvantage to my soul to forget anything 
that it may perhaps have endured, so long as it diligently ob- 
serves and remembers all that may warn it to make preparation 
for the future. For example, it will do no harm to a man who is 
sailing to Rome to forget from what shore he set sail, so long as 
he knows all the time whither he is directing his course. It will do 
him no good to remember the shore from which he began his 
voyage, if he has made some false calculation about the port of 
Rome and runs upon rocks. So it is no disadvantage to me not 
to remember the beginning of my life, so long as I know the end 
where I am to find rest. Nor would any memory or guess con- 
cerning life’s commencement be of any advantage to me if, 
holding unworthy opinions of God who is the sole end of the 
soul’s labours, I should run upon the reefs of error. 

62. What I have said is not to be taken to mean that I forbid 
those who have the ability to inquire whether, according to the 
divinely inspired Scriptures, soul is propagated from soul, or 
whether souls are created separately for all animate beings; 
whether they are sent at the divine behest from some place 
where they abide to animate and rule the body, or whether they 
insinuate themselves of their own accord. Such inquiries and 
discussions are justifiable if reason demands them in order to 
answer some necessary question, or if leisure from more neces- 
sary matters is available. I spoke as I did rather that no one in 
so great a problem should rashly become angry with another 
because he will not yield to his opinion, having grounds for 
hesitation based perhaps on a broader culture; or even that no 
one who has clear and certain understanding of these matters 
from Scripture should suppose that another has lost all hope for 
the future because he does not remember the soul’s origin in 
the past. 

xxii, 63. However that may be, whether that question is to 



ON FREE WILL 


209 

be passed over entirely or to be deferred for later consideration, 
there is no obstacle preventing us from answering the question 
with which we are dealing at present in such a way as to make 
clear that by the upright, just, unshaken and changeless majesty 
and substance of the Creator souls pay the penalty for their own 
sins. These sins, as we have explained at great length, are to be 
ascribed to nothing but to their own wills, and no further cause 
for sins is to be looked for. 

64. If ignorance and moral difficulty are natural to man, it is 
from that condition that the soul begins to progress and to ad- 
vance towards knowledge and tranquillity until it reaches the 
perfection of the happy life. If by its own will it neglects to ad- 
vance by means of good studies and piety — for the capacity to 
do so is not denied to it — it justly falls into a still graver state of 
ignorance and struggle, which is now penal, and is ranked 
among inferior creatures according to the appropriate and 
fitting government of the universe. Natural ignorance and 
natural impotence are not reckoned to the soul as guilt. The 
guilt arises because it does not eagerly pursue knowledge, and 
does not give adequate attention to acquiring facility in doing 
right. It is natural for an infant not to know how to speak and 
not to be able to speak. But that ignorance and inability are not 
only blameless according to the rules of the teachers, but are also 
attractive and pleasing to human feeling. In this case there is 
no faulty failure to acquire the power of speaking, nor, if 
possessed, was it lost through any fault. If we supposed that 
happiness was to be found in eloquence and it was thought 
criminal to commit a fault in speaking, as it is thought criminal 
to commit a fault in action, no one would put the blame on our 
infancy, though as infants we began to acquire eloquence. 
But clearly one would be deservedly blamed if by perversity of 
will one either remained in the infantile condition or fell back 
into it. In the same way, if ignorance of the truth and difficulty 
in doing right are natural to man, and he has to begin to rise 
from that condition to the happiness of wisdom and tranquillity, 
no one rightly blames him for the natural condition from which 
he started. But if he refuses to progress, or voluntarily falls back 
from the path of progress, he will justly and deservedly pay the 
penalty. 

65. But his Creator is to be praised on all counts. He gave 
him the power to rise from such beginnings to ability to attain the 
chief good. He renders aid as he advances. He completes and 
perfects his advance. And if he sins, that is, if he refuses to rise 

A.E.W. — 14 



210 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

from these beginnings to perfection or if he falls back from any 
progress he may have made, he imposes on him a most just 
condemnation according to his deserts. The soul was not created 
evil because it was not given all that it had power to become. 
All corporeal things however perfect are far inferior to the 
soul’s beginning, though anyone who takes a sane view of things 
judges that they, too, are to be praised in their own kind. That 
the soul does not know what it should do is due to its not yet 
having received that gift. It will receive it if it makes a good use 
of what it has received. It has received the power to seek dili- 
gently and piously if it will. That it cannot instantly fulfil the 
duty it recognizes as duty, means that that is another gift it has 
not yet received. Its higher part first perceives the good it ought 
to do, but the slower and carnal part is not immediately brought 
over to that opinion. So by that very difficulty it is admonished 
to implore for its perfecting the aid of him whom it believes to 
be the author of its beginning. Hence he becomes dearer to it, 
because it has its existence not from its own resources but from 
his goodness, and by his mercy it is raised to happiness. The 
more it loves him from whom it derives its existence, the more 
surely it rests in him, and enjoys his eternity more fully. We do 
not rightly say of a young shoot of a tree that it is sterile, because 
several summers must pass before at the appointed time it re- 
veals its fruitfulness. Why should not the Author of the soul be 
praised with due piety if he has given it so good a start that it 
may by zeal and progress reach the fruit of wisdom and justice, 
and has given it so much dignity as to put within its power the 
capacity to grow towards happiness if it will? 

xxiii, 66. Against this reasoning, ignorant men are wont to 
repeat a calumny based upon the deaths of infants and certain 
bodily torments with which we often see them afflicted. They 
say: What need had the infant to be born if it was to die before 
it had acquired any merit in life? How is it to be reckoned in the 
future judgment, seeing that it cannot be put among the just 
since it performed no good works, nor among the evil because it 
never sinned? I reply: If you think of the all-embracing com- 
plexity of the universe, and the orderly connection of the whole 
creation throughout space and time, you will not believe that 
a man, whatsoever he may be, can be created superfluously. 
Why, not even the leaf of a tree is created superfluously. But it 
is idly superfluous to inquire about the merits of one who has 
done nothing to merit anything. There is no need to fear lest 
there be a life lived which is neither righteous nor sinful, nor 



ON FREE WILL 


21 1 


that the judge will be able to pronounce sentence involving 
neither reward nor punishment. 

67. At this point men are wont to ask what good the sacra- 
ment of Christ’s Baptism can do to infants, seeing that many of 
them die after having been baptized but before they can know 
anything about it. In this case it is pious and right to believe 
that the infant is benefited by the faith of those who bring him 
to be consecrated. This is commended by the salutary authority 
of the Church, so that everyone may realize how beneficial to 
him is his faith, seeing that one man’s faith can be made bene- 
ficial for another who has no faith of his own. The son of the 
widow of Nain could have had no advantage from any faith 
of his own, for, being dead, he had no faith. But his mother’s 
faith procured him the benefit of being raised from the dead 
(Luke 7:11 ff.). How much more may the faith of another bene- 
fit an infant seeing that no faithlessness of its own can be 
imputed to it? 

68. A greater complaint, and one with a show of pity about 
it, is often occasioned by the bodily torments which infants 
suffer, for by reason of their tender age they have committed no 
sins, at least if the souls which animate them have had no 
existence prior to their birth as human beings. People say: 
What evil have they done that they should suffer such things? 
As if innocence could have any merit before it has the power to 
do any hurt! Perhaps God is doing some good in correcting 
parents when their beloved children suffer pain and even death. 
Why should not such things happen? When they are past they 
will be for those who suffered them as if they never happened. 
And those on whose account they happened will be made better 
if they accept correction from temporal troubles and choose to 
live more righteously. Or, if they will not allow the sufferings 
of this life to turn their desire towards eternal life, they will be 
without excuse when they are punished at the last judgment. 
By the torments of their children parents have their hard hearts 
softened, their faith exercised and their tenderness proved. 
Who knows what good compensation God has reserved in the 
secrecy of his judgments for the children themselves who, 
though they have not had the chance of living righteously, at 
least have committed no sin and yet have suffered? Not for 
nothing does the Church commend for honour as martyrs the 
children who were slain by the orders of Herod when he sought 
to slay the Lord Jesus Christ. 

69. These casuists, who ask questions of that kind not because 



212 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

they want to examine them seriously but because they are 
loquacious and want to ventilate them, are wont also to trouble 
the faith of the less learned by pointing to the pains and labours 
of animals. What evil, they say, have the animals deserved 
that they suffer such woes, or what good can they hope for in 
having such troubles imposed on them? They say that or feel 
like that because they have a perverted sense of values. They 
are not able to see what the chief good is, and they want to 
have everything just as they conceive the chief good to be. They 
can think of no chief good except fine bodies like the celestial 
bodies which are not subject to corruption. And so without any 
sense of order they demand that the bodies of animals shall not 
suffer death or any corruption, as if forsooth they were not 
mortal, being lowly bodies, or were evil because celestial bodies 
are better. The pain which the animals suffer commends the 
vigour of the animal soul as admirable and praiseworthy after 
its own fashion. By animating and ruling the body of the animal 
it shows its desire for unity. For what is pain but a certain feeling 
that cannot bear division and corruption? Hence it is clearer 
than day that the animal soul is eager for unity in the whole 
body and is tenacious of unity. Neither gladly nor with indif- 
ference, but reluctantly and with obstinate resistance it meets 
bodily suffering which it is grieved to know destroys the unity 
and integrity of the body. We should never know what eager- 
ness there is for unity in the inferior animal creation, were it 
not for the pain suffered by animals. And if we did not know 
that, we should not be made sufficiently aware that all things 
are framed by the supreme, sublime and ineffable unity of the 
Creator. 

70. Indeed, if you give pious and diligent attention, every 
kind of creature which can come under the consideration of the 
human mind contributes to our instruction, speaking by its 
diverse movements and feelings as in so many diverse tongues, 
everywhere proclaiming and insisting that the Creator is to be 
recognized. There is no creature that feels pain or pleasure 
which does not by some sort of unity attain a beauty appro- 
priate to its own kind, or some sort of stability of nature. There 
is no creature sensitive to pain or pleasure which does not, 
simply by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure, show that it 
avoids its own destruction and seeks unity. In rational souls all 
desire for knowledge, which is the delight of the rational nature, 
refers its acquisitions to unity, and, in avoiding error, avoids 
nothing so much as the confusion of incomprehensible am- 



ON FREE WILL 


213 

biguity. Why is ambiguity so detestable save that it has no 
certain unity? Hence it is clear that all things, whether they 
offend or are offended, whether they delight or are delighted, 
proclaim or suggest the unity of the Creator. But if ignorance 
and moral difficulty from which we must set out on the rational 
life are not natural to souls, they must be undertaken as a duty 
or imposed as a punishment. I think we have said enough about 
these matters now. 

xxiv, 71. What sort of creature the first man was when 
created is a more important question than how his posterity 
was propagated. People seem to pose a very acute question 
when they say: If the first man was created wise, why has he 
been seduced? If he was created foolish how is God to escape 
being held to be the author of vice, since folly is the greatest 
vice of all? As if human nature might not receive some inter- 
mediate quality which can be called neither folly nor wisdom! 
Man begins to be either foolish or wise, and one or other of 
these terms must necessarily be applied to him, as soon as it 
becomes possible for him to have wisdom or to neglect it. Then 
his will is guilty, for his folly is his own fault. No one is so foolish 
as to call an infant foolish, though it would be even more 
absurd to call it wise. An infant can be called neither foolish 
nor wise though it is already a human being. So it appears that 
human nature receives an intermediate condition which cannot 
be rightly called either folly or wisdom. Similarly, if anyone was 
animated by a soul disposed as men are who lack wisdom 
through negligence, nobody could rightly call him foolish, 
because he would owe his condition not to his own fault but to 
the nature with which he was endowed. Folly is not any kind 
of ignorance of things to be sought and avoided, but ignorance 
which is due to a man’s own fault. We do not call an irrational 
animal foolish, because it has not received the power to be wise. 
Yet we often apply terms improperly where there is some 
similarity. Blindness is the greatest fault that eyes can have, yet 
it is not a fault in puppies, and is not properly called blindness. 

72. If man was created such that, although he was not yet 
wise, he could at least receive a commandment which he ought 
to obey, it is not surprising that he could be seduced. Nor is it 
unjust that he pays the penalty for not obeying the command- 
ment. Nor is his Creator the author of sins, for it was not yet a 
sin in man not to have wisdom, if that gift were not yet given 
him. But he had something that would enable him to attain 
what he did not have, provided he was willing to make a good 



214 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

use of it. It is one thing to be a rational being, another to be a 
wise man. Reason makes a man able to receive the precept to 
which he ought to be loyal, so that he may perform what is 
commanded. The rational nature grasps the precept, obedience 
to which brings wisdom. What nature contributes to the 
grasping of the precept, will contributes to obedience to it. As 
the merit of receiving the precept, so to speak, is to have a 
rational nature, so the merit of receiving wisdom is obedience 
to the precept. As soon as a man begins to have the power to 
receive the precept, he begins also to have the possibility of 
sinning. Before he becomes wise he sins in one or other of two 
ways. Either he does not fit himself to receive the precept, or, 
receiving it, he does not obey it. The wise man sins if he turns 
away from wisdom. The precept does not come from him on 
whom it is laid, but from him who gives it; so wisdom, too, 
comes not from him who is illumined, but from him who gives 
the light. Why then should not the Creator of man be praised? 
Man is good, and better than the cattle because he is capable 
of receiving the precept; better still when he has received the 
precept; and still better when he has obeyed it; best of all when 
he is made happy by the eternal light of wisdom. Sin, or evil, 
consists in neglect to receive the precept or to obey it, or to hold 
fast the contemplation of wisdom. So we learn that, even al- 
though the first man had been created wise, it was nevertheless 
possible for him to be seduced. Because his sin was committed 
with his free will, a just penalty followed by divine law. As the 
apostle Paul says: “Saying they are wise they have become 
fools” (Rom. 1:22). It is pride that turns man away from 
wisdom, and folly is the consequence of turning away from wis- 
dom. Folly is a kind of blindness, as he says: “Their foolish 
heart was darkened.” Whence came this darkness, if not from 
turning away from the light of wisdom? And whence came the 
turning away, if not from the fact that man, whose good God is, 
willed to be his own good and so to substitute himself for God. 
Accordingly the Scriptures say: “Looking to myself, my soul is 
cast down” (Ps. 42:6. LXX). And again: “Taste and ye shall 
be as gods” (Gen. 3:5). 

73. Some people are troubled by this question. Did folly 
cause the first man to depart from God, or did he become 
foolish by departing from God? If you answer that folly made 
him depart from wisdom, it will appear that he was foolish 
before he did so, so that folly is the cause of his doing so. If you 
reply that he became foolish by departing from wisdom, they 



ON FREE WILL 


215 

ask whether he acted foolishly or wisely in departing. If wisely 
he did right and committed no sin. If foolishly there was folly 
already in him, they say, which made him depart from wisdom. 
For without folly he could do nothing foolishly. Clearly there is 
some middle state of transition from wisdom to folly, which 
cannot be called either wisdom or folly; but it is not given to 
men to understand this except by way of contrast with both. 
No mortal becomes wise unless he passes from folly to wisdom. 
If there is folly in the actual transition it is not a good thing, 
but to say that would be mad. If there is wisdom in it, there 
must already be wisdom in a man before he makes the transition 
to wisdom. But that is equally absurd. Hence we learn that 
there is an intermediate state which may be said to be neither 
folly nor wisdom. In the same way when the first man passed 
from the citadel of wisdom to folly, the transition in itself was 
neither foolish nor wise. In the matter of sleeping and waking, 
to be asleep is not the same thing as to fall asleep, nor is to be 
awake the same thing as to awake. There is a transitional state 
between sleeping and waking as between folly and wisdom. 
But there is this difference. In the former case there is no inter- 
vention of will; in the latter the transition never takes place 
except by the action of the will. That is why the consequence is 
just retribution. 

xxv, 74. But the will is not enticed to do anything except by 
something that has been perceived. It is in a man’s power to 
take or reject this or that, but it is not in his power to control the 
things which will affect him when they are perceived. We must 
admit, therefore, that the mind is affected by perceptions both 
of superior things and of inferior things. Thus the rational 
creature may take from either what it will, and, according to its 
deserts in making the choice, it obtains as a consequence either 
misery or happiness. In the Garden of Eden the commandment 
of God came to man’s attention from above. From beneath 
came the suggestion of the serpent. Neither the commandment 
of God nor the suggestion of the serpent was in man’s power. 
But if he has reached the healthy state of wisdom he is freed 
from all the shackles of moral difficulty, and has freedom not to 
yield to> the enticing suggestions of inferior things. How free he 
is we can infer from the fact that even fools overcome them as 
they pass on to wisdom, though of course they have the diffi- 
culty of trying to do without the deadly sweetness of the per- 
nicious things to which they have been accustomed. 

75. Here it may be asked, if man had impressions from both 



2l6 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


sides, from the commandment of God and from the suggestion 
of the serpent, whence did the devil receive the suggestion to 
follow impiety which brought him down from his abode on 
high. If there was nothing in his experience to affect him he 
would not have chosen to do what he did. If nothing had come 
into his mind he would not have directed his purpose to wicked- 
ness. Whence then did the thought come into his mind to 
attempt things which made of a good angel a devil? Whoever 
wills wills something. He cannot exercise will unless some hint 
comes to him from outside through bodily sense, or some 
thought comes into his mind in some secret way. We must dis- 
tinguish two kinds of experience. One proceeds from the will of 
another who uses persuasion, as, for example, when man sinned 
by consenting to the persuasion of the devil. The other kind 
springs from environment, mental and spiritual, or corporeal 
and sensational. The environment of the mind may be said to 
include the unchangeable Trinity, though the Trinity rather 
stands high above the mind. More properly the environment of 
the mind is, first of all, the mind itself which enables us to know 
that we live, and, secondly, the body which the mind governs, 
moving the appropriate limb to accomplish any action that 
may be required. The environment of the senses is corporeal 
objects of all kinds. 

76. The mind is not sovereign wisdom, for that is unchange- 
able. Yet in contemplating sovereign wisdom the mutable 
mind may behold itself and in a fashion come to know itself. But 
that cannot be unless a distinction is made. The mind is not as 
God is, and yet, next to God, it can give us satisfaction. It is better 
when it forgets itself in love for the unchangeable God, or in- 
deed utterly contemns itself in comparison with him. But if the 
mind, being immediately conscious of itself, takes pleasure in 
itself to the extent of perversely imitating God, wanting to enjoy 
its own power, the greater it wants to be the less it becomes. 
Pride is the beginning of all sin, and the beginning of man’s 
pride is revolt from God (Eccl. 10:12-13). To the devil’s 
pride was added malevolent envy, so that he persuaded man to 
show the same pride as had proved the devil’s damnation. So 
man had imposed on him a penalty which was corrective rather 
than destructive. As the devil had offered himself to man as a 
pattern of pride to be imitated, so the Lord, who promises us 
eternal life, offered himself as a pattern of humility for our 
imitation. Now that the blood of Christ is shed for us, after un- 
speakable toils and miseries, let us cleave to our Liberator with 



ON FREE WILL 


217 

such love, let us be so enraptured with his brightness, that 
nothing coming into our experience from the lower realms may 
rob us of our vision of the higher things. And if any suggestion 
springing from a desire for the inferior should deflect our pur- 
pose, the eternal damnation and torments of the devil will recall 
us to the true path. 

77. Such is the beauty of justice, such the pleasure of the 
eternal light, that is, of unchangeable truth and wisdom, that, 
even if we could not abide in it more than the space of a single 
day, for that day alone innumerable years of this life full of 
delights and abundance of temporal goods would be rightly 
and deservedly despised. Deep and unfeigned is the emotion 
expressed in these words: “One day in thy courts is better than 
thousands’ 5 (Ps. 84:10). These words can be understood in an- 
other sense. Thousands of days might be understood of mutable 
time, and by the expression “one day” changeless eternity might 
be denoted. I do not know whether I have omitted any point in 
replying, as God has deigned to give me the power, to your 
questions. Even if anything else occurs to you, moderation com- 
pels us now to bring this book to an end, and to take some rest 
after this disputation. 



Of True Religion 


St. Augustine's Review of“De Vera Religione.” 

Retractations /, xiii 

i. At that time also I wrote a book Concerning True Religion in 
which I argued at great length and in many ways that true 
religion means the worship of the one true God, that is, the 
Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I pointed out how great 
was his mercy in granting to men by a temporal dispensation 
the Christian religion, which is true religion, and how man is 
to adjust his life to the worship of God. But the book is written 
chiefly against the two natures of the Manichees. 

2. In a passage in that book (chap, x) I say, “There could have 
been no error in religion had not the soul worshipped in place 
of God either soul or body or its own phantasms.” By “soul,” 
here, I meant the whole incorporeal creation. I was not using 
the language of Scripture which, when it speaks of soul, under 
that name seems to mean nothing but that which animates 
living beings including men so long as they are mortal. A little 
later I put my meaning better and more briefly, “Let us not 
serve the creature rather than the Creator, nor become vain in 
our thoughts.” By “creature” I indicated by one word both 
spiritual and corporeal creation. And “Let us not become vain 
in our thoughts” corresponds to “the phantasms of the soul.” 

3. Again, in the same chapter, I said, “That is the Christian 
religion in our times, which to know and follow is most sure and 
certain salvation.” I was speaking of the name, here, and not of 
the thing so named. For what is now called the Christian 
religion existed of old and was never absent from the beginning 
of the human race until Christ came in the flesh. Then true 
religion which already existed began to be called Christian. 
After the resurrection and ascension of Christ into heaven, the 
apostles began to preach him and many believed, and the dis- 

218 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


219 

ciplcs were first called Christians in Antioch, as it is written. 
When I said, “This is the Christian religion in our times,” I 
did not mean that it had not existed in former times, but that it 
received that name later. 

4. In another place I say, “Listen to what follows as diligently 
and as piously as you can; for God aids such. 55 This is not to be 
understood as if he aids the diligent and pious only. He aids 
those who are not such to be such, and to seek diligently and 
piously. Those who do so he aids so that they may find. Again, 
I say (chap, xii), “After the death of the body which we owe 
to the first sin, in its own time and order this body will be 
restored to its pristine stability. 55 That is to be accepted as par- 
tially true. The pristine stability of the body, which by sinning 
we lost, had so great felicity that it would not fall into the de- 
cline of old age. To this state the body will be restored at the 
resurrection of the dead. But it will have more; for it will not 
need to be sustained by material food. It will be sufficiently 
animated by spirit alone when it is resurrected as a vivifying 
spirit. For this reason also it will be spiritual. Man’s original 
nature, though it would not have died if man had not sinned, 
yet was made a living soul. 

5. In another place (chap xiv) I say, “Sin is so much volun- 
tary evil, that there would be no such thing as sin unless it were 
voluntary. 55 That may appear a false definition; but if it is 
diligently discussed it will be found to be quite true. We are to 
consider as sin simply sin and not what is really the penalty of 
sin, as I showed above when I was dealing with passages from 
the third book of the De Libero Arbitrio. Sins which are not un- 
justifiably said to be non-voluntary because they are committed 
in ignorance or under compulsion cannot be said to be com- 
mitted entirely involuntarily. He who sins in ignorance uses his 
will to some extent, for he thinks he should do what in fact 
ought not to be done. He who does not the things that he would 
because the flesh lusteth against the spirit, may be unwilling 
but he lusts all the same, and thereby does not the things he 
would. If he is overcome he voluntarily consents to lust, and 
thereby does what he wishes, being free from righteousness and 
the servant of sin. What we call original sin in infants, who have 
not yet the use of free choice, may not absurdly also be called 
voluntary, because it originated in man’s first evil will and has 
become in a manner hereditary. So my statement was not false. 
By the grace of God not only is the guilt of past sins done away 
in all who are baptized in Christ, by the spirit of regeneration; 



220 


AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 


but also in grown-up people the will itself is healed and made 
ready by the Lord, by the spirit of faith and love. 

6. In another place (chap, xvi) I said of the Lord Jesus 
Christ that “He did nothing by violence, but everything by per- 
suasion and advice. 55 I had forgotten that he used a whip to 
drive the buyers and sellers from the Temple. But what does 
this amount to? He also drove demons from men against their 
will, not by persuasive speech but by the might of his power. 
Again, I say (chap, xxv), “These are first to be followed who 
say that the most high true God is alone to be worshipped. If 
the truth does not shine out among them, then we must go 
elsewhere. 55 That would seem to suggest that there is some 
doubt about the truth of this religion. I was adapting my words 
to the situation of him whom I was addressing. I had no doubt 
myself that the truth would shine out among them. The apostle 
says, “If Christ be not raised,” never doubting that he was 
raised. 

7. Again, I said (chap, xxv), “These miracles were not 
permitted to last till our times, lest the soul should always seek 
visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becom- 
ing accustomed to things w T hich stirred it when they were 
novel. 55 That is true. When hands are laid on in Baptism people 
do not receive the Holy Spirit in such a way that they speak 
with the tongues of all the nations. Nor are the sick now healed 
by the shadow of Christ’s preachers as they pass by. Clearly 
such things which happened then have later ceased. But I 
should not be understood to mean that to-day no miracles are 
to be believed to happen in the name of Christ. For when I 
wrote that book I myself had just heard that a blind man in 
Milan had received his sight beside the bodies of the Milanese 
martyrs, Protasius and Gervasius. And many others happen 
even in these times, so that it is impossible to know them all or 
to enumerate those we do know. 

8. In another place (chap, xli) I said, “As the apostle says, 
all order is of God. 55 But the apostle does not use these very 
words, though his meaning seems to be the same. He actually 
says “the things that are are ordained of God.” Again I say, 
“Let no one deceive us. Whatever is rightly blamed is rejected 
by comparison with what is better.” This is said of substances 
and natures which were under discussion, not of good and bad 
actions. Again (chap, xlvi) I say, “Man is not to be loved by 
man, as brothers after the flesh love, or sons, spouses, relatives, 
citizens. That is temporal love. We should not have any such 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


221 


relationships, which are contingent on birth and death, if our 
nature had remained in the precepts and image of God, and 
had not been condemned to corruption.” I completely dis- 
approve of this notion, of which I have already disapproved in 
reviewing the first book of my On Genesis , against the Manichees. 
It leads to the conclusion that the first pair would not have 
begotten offspring unless they had sinned, as if it were necessary 
that the offspring of intercourse between man and woman 
should be born to die. I had not yet seen that it was possible 
that children who would not die might be born of parents who 
would not die, if human nature had not been changed for the 
worse by the first great sin. In that case, if fertility and felicity 
remained both in parents and in children, men would have 
been born who were destined, not to succeed parents who die, 
but to reign with their parents in life, up to the fixed number of 
the saints which God has predetermined. If there were no sin or 
death, these kinships and relationships would exist. 

9. In another place (chap, lv) I say, “Tending to One God, 
and binding our souls to him alone [religantes], whence religion 
is supposed to be derived, let us be without superstition.” The 
account which is given in these words of the derivation of the 
word “religion” pleased me best. To be sure I was not unaware 
that authors of Latin tongue have given another derivation, 
from religere which is a composite verb from legere , to choose. 
Religo seems the proper Latin form, following the analogy of 
eligo. 



Of True Religion 

INTRODUCTION 

T he De Vera Religione is dedicated to Romanianus, 
and was sent to him with a brief epistle (Epist. 15) in 390. 
Romanianus, a wealthy citizen of Tagaste, had be- 
friended the young Augustine and contributed financially to 
enable him to study in Carthage. During a business visit to 
Milan he met Augustine again, and was one of those who dis- 
cussed a plan to form a quasi-monastic community for religious 
and philosophic inquiry (Conf. vi, 14). His son, Licentius, was 
left with Augustine as a pupil, accompanied him to Cassiciacum 
and took part in the early dialogues. The Contra Academicos is 
also dedicated to Romanianus, and there (II, iii, 8) reference is 
made to the abilities and progress of his son. There too the 
promise is given to discuss true religion with him, should oppor- 
tunity offer. On Augustine’s return to Africa Romanianus 
pressed for a fulfilment of the promise, and offered to put his 
house at Tagaste at the disposal of Augustine and his friends. 
The offer was gracefully refused. The De Vera Religione was one 
of the five works of Augustine sent to Paulinus of Nola in 394, 
which the latter delightedly hailed as his “Pentateuch against 
the Manichees” [Epist. 25). In 415, in answer to queries ad- 
dressed to him by Evodius, Augustine refers to this work, as 
also to the De Libero Arbitrio, as containing in principle at least 
the solution to Evodius’ difficulties (Epist. 162). 

Of the De Vera Religione it has been said, “Scarcely any other 
of Augustine’s works is of more value in demonstrating the 
greatness of his genius.” At the same time it must be admitted 
that it is extremely diffuse, almost defying analysis. The infer- 
ence Augustine wishes Evodius to draw from it, viz., that 
reason cannot afford compelling proof of the existence of God, 

223 



OF TRUE RELIGION 223 

hardly seems to emerge from the argument, which is that 
God’s temporal dispensation in nature and in history is con- 
gruous with, supports and makes available for all men the 
Platonic teaching with regard to nature and the Good. The 
Christian religion, now graciously revealed by God for man’s 
salvation, is the true religion ineffectively glimpsed by Plato and 
his followers, giving a true account of man’s fall, present condi- 
tion and way of regeneration. Those who accept this can live 
the good life even under earthly conditions, provided they look 
for blessedness to God alone, the supreme Good. One may note 
the seminal idea of the De Civitate Dei in xxvii, 50. 

ANALYSIS 

i, 1 — vi, 11. Christ has achieved what Plato sought in vain 
to do. 

(1) True religion is the way of the blessed life, and is incom- 
patible with polytheism and idolatry. (2-6) Plato saw this 
afar off; Christ has made it generally available. (7) Platon- 
ists, unless smitten with envy, are becoming Christians. 
(8-1 1 ) Philosophers, Jews, heretics, schismatics, only stimu- 
late the thought of the Catholic Church, 
vii, 12 — x, 20. Address to Romanianus; and Outline of the 
Argument. 

(13) God’s temporal dispensation for man’s salvation rightly 
understood provides (14-16) a sure defence against all 
heresies, especially Manicheeism. (18) Root of all heresy is 
failure to distinguish between Creator and creature. (19) All 
creation, obedient to the law of God, bears witness to the 
eternal Creator. God has come to man’s aid in giving the 
Christian religion. (20) Augustine’s varied experience in 
commending it. 

xi, 21 — xxiii, 44. The Fall and Redemption of Man. 

(21-25) The soul by disobedience is involved in material 
things and becomes “carnal.” By God’s grace it can return 
to God. Even the body can be renewed. (27) Sin is voluntary, 
and its penalty, which includes moral inability, is just. But 
salvation is possible. (30) Christ honoured human nature by 
assuming it in order to liberate it. (31-34) He taught and set 
the standard of the perfect life. (35 ff.) Sin is loving the lower 
in place of the higher good, and its cause is the mutability of 
the creature and disobedience to God’s command. (42) 
Beauty even in transient things, e.g., a poem. (43) So also in 



224 AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 

history; only we are involved in history as parts of it, and 
cannot see it whole. (44) History is a process of purgation, 
making for the salvation of the righteous and the final 
damnation of the impious. 

xxiv, 45 — xxxviii, 71. God’s Methods of winning men from 
the Temporal to the Eternal. A. Authority (45-51). 
B . Reason (52-71). 

A . Authority. (45) Authority prior in time to reason. (46) 
Belongs to those who call us to worship one God, for unity is 
supreme. (47) Miracles necessary at the beginning of the 
Church but not now. (48) Five stages of the natural life of 
the individual. (49) Seven stages of the spiritual life, i.e., 
putting off' “the old man” and putting on “the new man.” 

(50) World history from Adam to the Judgment; Two classes 
of men, the regenerate and the impious. Their final destiny. 

(51) The economy of the divine education of the human race 
in Israel and in the Church. 

B . Reason. (52) Life superior to the inanimate. (53) Reason 
superior to Life. (54-58) Above reason is the ideal world; 
Truth, the eternal law, God. (59-64) Difficulty in getting men 
to transcend sense-knowledge. (68-69) Hence all idolatry, 
and worse still, the worship of the vices. (71) The Three 
Temptations of Christ show how vices are to be overcome. 

xxxix, 72 — liv, 106. Reason sees the created universe as point- 
ing to God. (72) Vestiges of truth everywhere, even in 
bodily pleasures. Things enjoyed are good; evil only as com- 
pared with what is better. (73) Even to know that one doubts, 
is the beginning of truth. (74) There is good in all material 
processes even the lowest. (76) The universe as a whole is 
beautiful. Even a worm has a beauty of its own. (79) Number 
in all things. (84) The desire to excel is good; even pride is a 
perverted imitation of almighty God. (85 ff.) The desire to be 
unconquered has good in it, especially if what is desired is to 
be unconquered by vice. By loving men as they ought to be 
loved we conquer anger, jealousy and partiality. (94) Curio- 
sity is a perversion of the laudable desire to know the truth. 
Idle curiosity is sin. But the desire to know God and the 
meaning of Scripture is entirely good and the way of salva- 
tion. (106) The Five Talents in the parable are the five 
senses. When they are well used an extra talent is given, i.e., 
power to understand eternal things. 

lv, 107-113. Final Exhortation to the Worship of the One 
True God. 



Of True Religion 

THE TEXT 

i, i. The way of the good and blessed life is to be found entirely 
in the true religion wherein one God is worshipped and 
acknowledged with purest piety to be the beginning of all 
existing things, originating, perfecting and containing the 
universe. Thus it becomes easy to detect the error of the peoples 
who have preferred to worship many gods rather than the true 
God and Lord of all things, because their wise men whom they 
call philosophers used to have schools in disagreement one with 
another, while all made common use of the temples. The 
peoples and the priests knew quite well how divergent were the 
views of the philosophers concerning the nature of the gods, for 
none shrank from publicly professing his opinion, and indeed 
each endeavoured as far as he could to persuade everybody. 
And yet all of them with their co-sectaries, in spite of their 
diverse and mutually hostile opinions, came to the common 
religious rites, none saying them nay. Now the question is not, 
Whose opinion was nearest to the truth? But one thing, so far 
as I can see, is abundantly clear. What the philosophers ob- 
served along with the people in the way of religious rites was 
something quite different from what they defended in private, 
or even in the hearing of the people. 

ii, 2. Socrates is said to have been somewhat bolder than the 
others. He swore by a dog or a stone or any other object that 
happened to be near him or came to hand, so to speak, when he 
was to take an oath. I suppose he knew how many natural ob- 
jects, produced and governed by divine providence, are much 
better than the works of human artificers, and therefore worthier 
of divine honours than are the images which are worshipped in 
the temples. Not that dogs and stones were rightly to be 
a.e.w. — 15 225 



226 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

worshipped by wise men; but that in this way all who had intelli- 
gence might understand how sunk in superstition men are. He 
wanted to show that an oath of this kind did represent an ad- 
vance though not a very great one. If men were ashamed to 
take this step, they might at least see how shameful it was to re- 
main in the still baser condition of religious practice to which 
they were accustomed. At the same time those who supposed 
that the visible world was the supreme God were given to 
realize their turpitude, for they were taught that any stone 
might be rightly worshipped as a particle of God most high. If 
they saw that that was offensive, they might change their minds 
and seek the one God who alone is superior to our minds, and 
by whom clearly every soul and the whole world has been 
created. Plato afterwards wrote all this down, making it 
pleasant to read rather than potent to persuade. These men 
were not fit to change the minds of their fellow-citizens, and 
convert them from idolatrous superstition and worldly vanity 
to the true worship of the true God. Thus Socrates himself 
venerated images along with his people, and after his condem- 
nation and death no one dared to swear by a dog or to call a 
stone Jupiter. These things were merely recorded and handed 
down to memory. Whether this was due to fear of punishment 
or to the influence of the times it is not for me to judge. 

iii, 3. This, however, I will say with complete confidence, in 
spite of all who love so obstinately the books of the philosophers. 
In Christian times there can be no doubt at all as to which reli- 
gion is to be received and held fast, and as to where is the way 
that leads to truth and beatitude. Suppose Plato were alive and 
would not spurn a question I would put to him; or rather sup- 
pose one of his own disciples, who lived at the same time as he 
did, had addressed him thus: “You have persuaded me that 
truth is seen not with the bodily eyes but by the pure mind, and 
that any soul that cleaves to truth is thereby made happy and 
perfect. Nothing hinders the perception of truth more than a 
life devoted to lusts, and the false images of sensible things, de- 
rived from the sensible world and impressed on us by the agency 
of the body, which beget various opinions and errors. Therefore 
the mind has to be healed so that it may behold the immutable 
form of things which remains ever the same, preserving its 
beauty unchanged and unchangeable, knowing no spatial dis- 
tance or temporal variation, abiding absolutely one and the 
same. Men do not believe in its existence, though it alone truly 
and supremely exists. Other things are born, die, are dissolved 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


227 

or broken up. But so far as they do exist they have existence 
from the eternal God, being created by his truth. To the rational 
and intellectual soul is given to enjoy the contemplation of his 
eternity, and by that contemplation it is armed and equipped 
so that it may obtain eternal life. So long as it is weakened by 
love of things that come to be and pass away, or by pain at 
losing them, so long as it is devoted to the custom of this life and 
to the bodily senses, and becomes vain among vain images, it 
laughs at those who say that there is something which cannot 
be seen by the eyes, or conjured up by any phantasm, but can 
be beheld by the mind alone, by the intelligence. You, my 
master, have persuaded me to believe these things. Now, if some 
great and divine man should arise to persuade the peoples that 
such things were to be at least believed if they could not grasp 
them with the mind, or that those who could grasp them should 
not allow themselves to be implicated in the depraved opinions 
of the multitude or to be overborne by vulgar errors, would you 
not judge that such a man is worthy of divine honours?” I be- 
lieve Plato’s answer would be: “That could not be done by 
man, unless the very virtue and wisdom of God delivered him 
from natural environment, illumined him from his cradle not 
by human teaching but by personal illumination, honoured him 
with such grace, strengthened him with such firmness and ex- 
alted him with such majesty, that he should be able to despise 
all that wicked men desire, to suffer all that they dread, to do 
all that they marvel at, and so with the greatest love and 
authority to convert the human race to so sound a faith. But it 
is needless to ask me about the honours that would be due to 
such a man. It is easy to calculate what honours are due to the 
wisdom of God. Being the bearer and instrument of the wisdom 
of God on behalf of the true salvation of the human race, such a 
man would have earned a place all his own, a place above all 
humanity.” 

4. Now this very thing has come to pass. It is celebrated in 
books and documents. From one particular region of the earth 
in which alone the one God was worshipped and where alone 
such a man could be born, chosen men were sent throughout 
the entire world, and by their virtues and words have 
kindled the fires of the divine love. Their sound teaching has 
been confirmed and they have left to posterity a world illumined. 
But not to speak of ancient history, which anyone may refuse to 
believe, to-day throughout the nations and peoples the pro- 
clamation is made: “In the beginning was the Word, and the 



228 


AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 


Word was with God, and the Word was God. This was in the 
beginning with God, and all things were made by him, and 
without him was nothing made 55 (John i :i). In order that men 
may receive the Word, love him, and enjoy him so that the soul 
may be healed and the eye of the mind receive power to use the 
light, to the greedy it is declared: “Lay not up for yourselves 
treasures upon earth where moth and rust destroy, and where 
thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves 
treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys, and 
where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your 
treasure is there will your heart be also 55 (Matt. 6:19). To the 
wanton it is said: “He who sows in the flesh shall of the flesh 
reap corruption. He who sows in the spirit shall of the spirit 
reap eternal life 55 (Gal. 6:8). To the proud it is said: “Whosoever 
exalteth himself shall be abased and whosoever humbleth him- 
self shall be exalted 55 (Luke 14:11). To the wrathful it is said: 
“Thou hast received a blow. Turn the other cheek 55 (Matt. 
5:39). To those who strive it is said: “Love your enemies 55 
(Matt. 5:44). To the superstitious: “The kingdom of God is 
within you 55 (Luke 17:21). To the curious: “Look not on the 
things which are seen, but on the things which are not seen. 
For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which 
are not seen are eternal 55 (II Cor. 4:18). Finally, to all it is said: 
“Love not the world nor the things which are in the world. For 
everything that is in the world is the lust of the flesh, the lust of 
the eyes and the ambition of this world 55 (I John 2:15). 

5. These things are read to the peoples throughout all the 
earth and are listened to most gladly and with veneration. After 
all the Christian blood shed, after all the burnings and cruci- 
fixions of the martyrs, fertilized by these things churches have 
sprung up as far afield as among barbarian nations. That 
thousands of young men and maidens contemn marriage and 
live in chastity causes no one surprise. Plato might have sug- 
gested that, but he so dreaded the perverse opinion of his times 
that he is said to have given in to nature and declared con- 
tinence to be no sin. Views are accepted which it was once mon- 
strous to maintain, even as it is monstrous now to dispute them. 
All over the inhabited world the Christian rites are entrusted 
to men who are willing to make profession and to undertake the 
obligations required. Every day the precepts of Christianity are 
read in the churches and expounded by the priests. Those who 
try to fulfil them beat their breasts in contrition. Multitudes 
enter upon this way of life from every race, forsaking the riches 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


229 

and honours of the present world, desirous of dedicating their 
whole life to the one most high God. Islands once deserted and 
many lands formerly left in solitude are filled with monks. In 
cities and towns, castles and villages, country places and private 
estates, there is openly preached and practised such a renuncia- 
tion of earthly things and conversion to the one true God that 
daily throughout the entire world with almost one voice the 
human race makes response: Lift up your hearts to the Lord. 
Why, then, do we still admiringly yearn for the darkness of 
yesterday, and look for divine oracles in the entrails of dead 
cattle? Why, when it comes to disputation, are we so eager to 
mouth the name of Plato rather than to have the truth in our 
hearts? 

iv, 6. Those who think it a vain or even a wicked thing to 
despise the world of sense, and to subject the soul to God most 
high that he may purge it with virtue, must be refuted with a 
different argument; if indeed they are worth disputing with. 
But those who admit that that is a good ideal to be pursued 
should acknowledge God and submit to him who has brought 
it to pass that all nations now are persuaded that these things 
ought to be believed. They would themselves have brought this 
to pass if they had had the power. Seeing they had not the 
power, they cannot avoid the charge of envy. Let them, then, 
submit to him who has brought it to pass. Let them not be pre- 
vented by inquisitiveness or by vain-glory from recognizing the 
gap that subsists between the timid guesses of the few and the 
obvious salvation and correction of whole peoples. If Plato and 
the rest of them, in whose names men glory, were to come to 
life again and find the churches full and the temples empty, and 
that the human race was being called away from desire for tem- 
poral and transient goods to spiritual and intelligible goods and 
to the hope of eternal life, and was actually giving its attention 
to these things, they would perhaps say (if they really were the 
men they are said to have been) : That is what we did not dare 
to preach to the people. We preferred to yield to popular cus- 
tom rather than to bring the people over to our way of thinking 
and living. 

7. So if these men could live their lives again to-day, they 
would see by whose authority measures are best taken for man's 
salvation, and, with the change of a few words and sentiments, 
they would become Christians, as many Platonists of recent 
times have done. If they would not admit this or do this, but 
remained in their pride and envy, I know not whether it would 



230 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

be possible for them, encumbered with these rags and bird- 
lime, to resort to the things they once said were to be sought and 
striven for. I do not know whether such great men would have 
been prevented by the other vice which prevents present-day 
pagans, who now concern us, from accepting the Christian 
salvation, for indeed it is utterly puerile. I mean, of course, their 
curiosity in inquiring at demons. 

v, 8. However philosophers may boast, anyone can easily 
understand that religion is not to be sought from them. For 
they take part in the religious rites of their fellow-citizens, but 
in their schools teach divergent and contrary opinions about 
the nature of their gods and of the chief good, as the multitude 
can testify. If we could see this one great vice healed by the 
Christian discipline, no one should deny that that would be an 
achievement worthy of all possible praise. Innumerable heresies 
that turn aside from the rule of Christianity testify that men are 
not admitted to sacramental communion who think and en- 
deavour to persuade others to think otherwise of God the Father, 
of his wisdom and of the divine gift [the Holy Spirit] than as the 
truth demands. So it is taught and believed as a chief point in 
man’s salvation that philosophy, i.e., the pursuit of wisdom, 
cannot be quite divorced from religion, for those whose doc- 
trine we do not approve do not share in our sacramental rites. 

9. There is little to be surprised at in this in the case of men 
who have chosen to have different religious rites from ours such 
as the Ophites whoever they may be, or the Manichaeans and 
others. It is more noticeable in the case of those who celebrate 
similar religious rites but differ from us in doctrine and are 
more vigorous in defending their errors than careful to have 
them corrected. These are excluded from Catholic communion 
and from participation in our rites in spite of their similarity. 
They have deserved to have names of their own and separate 
meetings, being different not only in matters of words, but also 
because of their superstition; like the Photinians, the Arians and 
many others. It is another matter with those who have caused 
schisms. The Lord’s threshing-floor might have kept them as 
chaff until the time of the last winnowing, had they not in their 
levity been carried off by the wind of pride, and separated from 
us of their own accord. The Jews, it is true, worship the one 
omnipotent God, but they expect from him only temporal and 
visible goods. Being too secure they were unwilling to observe 
in their own Scriptures the indications of a new people of God 
arising out of humble estate, and so they remained in “the old 



OF TRUE RELIGION 23I 

man.” This being so, religion is to be sought neither in the con- 
fusion of the pagans, nor in the offscourings of the heretics, nor 
in the insipidity of schismatics, nor in the blindness of the Jews, 
but only among those who are called Catholic or orthodox 
Christians, that is, guardians of truth and followers of right. 

vi, 10. This Catholic Church, strongly and widely spread 
throughout the world, makes use of all who err, to correct them 
if they are willing to be aroused, and to assist its own progress. 
It makes use of the nations as material for its operations, of 
heretics to try its own doctrine, of schismatics to prove its 
stability, of the Jews as a foil to its own beauty. Some it invites, 
others it excludes, some it leaves behind, others it leads. To all it 
gives power to participate in the grace of God, whether they 
are as yet to be formed or reformed, admitted for the first time 
or gathered in anew. Its own carnal members, i.e., those whose 
lives or opinions are carnal, it tolerates as chaff by which the 
corn is protected on the floor until it is separated from its 
covering. On this floor everyone voluntarily makes himself either 
corn or chaff. Therefore every man’s sin or error is tolerated 
until he finds an accuser or defends his wicked opinion with 
pertinacious animosity. Those who are excluded return by way 
of penitence, or in baleful liberty sink into wickedness as a 
warning to us to be diligent; or they cause schisms to exercise 
our patience; or they beget a heresy to try our intelligence or to 
quicken it. By such ways carnal Christians leave us, for they 
could neither be corrected nor endured. 

1 1 . Often, too, divine providence permits even good men to 
be driven from the congregation of Christ by the turbulent 
seditions of carnal men. When for the sake of the peace of the 
Church they patiently endure that insult or injury, and attempt 
no novelties in the way of heresy or schism, they will teach men 
how God is to be served with a true disposition and with great 
and sincere charity. The intention of such men is to return when 
the tumult has subsided. But if that is not permitted because the 
storm continues or because a fiercer one might be stirred up by 
their return, they hold fast to their purpose to look to the good 
even of those responsible for the tumults and commotions that 
drove them out. They form no separate conventicles of their 
own, but defend to the death and assist by their testimony the 
faith which they know is preached in the Catholic Church. 
These the Father who seeth in secret crowns secretly. It appears 
that this is a rare kind of Christian, but examples are not lack- 
ing. Indeed there are more than can be believed. So divine 



232 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

providence uses all kinds of men as examples for the oversight 
of souls and for the building up of his spiritual people. 

vii, 12. A few years ago, my dear Romanianus, I promised 
to write down for you my sentiments concerning true religion. 
I think the time has now come to do so. In view of the love 
wherewith I am bound to you I can no longer allow your 
eager questions to run on endlessly. Repudiating all who do not 
carry philosophy into religious observance or philosophize in a 
religious spirit; those also who wax proud in wicked opinions 
or some other cause of dissension and so deviate from the Rule 
of Faith and from the communion of the Catholic Church; 
and those who refuse to own the light of the Holy Scripture 
and the grace of the spiritual people of God, which we call 
the New Testament — all of whom I have censured as briefly 
as I could — we must hold fast the Christian religion and the 
communion of the Church which is Catholic, and is called 
Catholic not only by its own members but also by all its enemies. 
Whether they will or no, heretics and schismatics use no other 
name for it than the name of Catholic, when they speak of it not 
among themselves but with outsiders. They cannot make them- 
selves understood unless they designate it by this name which is 
in universal use. 

13. In following this religion our chief concern is with the 
prophetic history of the dispensation of divine providence in 
time — what God has done for the salvation of the human race, 
renewing and restoring it unto eternal life. When once this is 
believed, a way of life agreeable to the divine commandments 
will purge the mind and make it fit to perceive spiritual things 
which are neither past nor future but abide ever the same, liable 
to no change. There is one God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
When this Trinity is known as far as it can be in this life, it is 
perceived without the slightest doubt that every creature, intel- 
lectual, animal and corporeal, derives such existence as it has 
from that same creative Trinity, has its own form, and is subject 
to the most perfect order. It is not as if the Father were under- 
stood to have made one part of creation, the Son another, and 
the Holy Spirit another, but the Father through the Son in the 
gift of the Holy Spirit together made all things and every parti- 
cular thing. For every thing, substance, essence or nature, or 
whatever better word there may be, possesses at once these 
three qualities: it is a particular thing; it is distinguished from 
other things by its own proper form; and it does not transgress 
the order of nature. 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


233 

viii, 14. When this is known it will be as clear as it can be to 
men that all things are subject by necessary, indefeasible and 
just laws to their Lord God. Hence all those things which to 
begin with we simply believed, following authority only, we 
come to understand. Partly we see them as certain, partly as 
possible and fitting, and we become sorry for those who do not 
believe them, and have preferred to mock at us for believing 
rather than to share our belief. The Holy Incarnation, the birth 
from a virgin, the death of the Son of God for us, his resurrection 
from the dead, ascension into heaven and sitting at the right 
hand of the Father, the forgiveness of sins, the day of judgment, 
the resurrection of the body are not merely believed, when the 
eternity of the Trinity and the mutability of created things are 
known. They are also judged to be part and parcel of the mercy 
of the most high God, which he has shown towards the human 
race. 

15. It has been truly said: * ‘There must be many heresies, 
that they which are approved may be made manifest among 
you’ 5 (I Cor. 11:19). Let us also make use of that gift of divine 
providence. Men become heretics who would have no less held 
wrong opinions even within the Church. Now that they are 
outside they do us more good, not by teaching the truth, for 
they do not know it, but by provoking carnal Catholics to seek 
the truth and spiritual Catholics to expound it. There are in the 
Holy Church innumerable men approved by God, but they do 
not become manifest among us so long as we are delighted with 
the darkness of our ignorance, and prefer to sleep rather than to 
behold the light of truth. So, many are awakened from sleep by 
the heretics, so that they may see God’s light and be glad. Let 
us therefore use even heretics, not to approve their errors, but 
to assert the Catholic discipline against their wiles, and to 
become more vigilant and cautious, even if we cannot recall 
them to salvation. 

ix, 16. I believe that God will lend us his aid so that Scrip- 
ture, being read by good men inspired by piety, may avail not 
against one false and bad opinion only but against all. But 
chiefly it is set against those who think that there are two natures 
or substances at war with one another, each with its own prin- 
ciple. Some things they like and others they dislike, and they 
will have God to be the author of the things they like, but not 
of those they dislike. When they cannot: overcome temptation 
and are snared in carnal traps, they think there are two souls in 
one body, one from God and sharing his nature, the other from 



234 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

the race of darkness which God neither begat, nor made, nor 
produced, nor cast from him; which has its own independent 
life, its territory, its offspring and living things, in short its 
kingdom and unbegotten principle. At a certain time it rebelled 
against God, and God, having no other resource and finding 
no other means of resisting the enemy, under dire necessity, 
sent the good soul hither, a particle of his substance. They 
fondly imagine that the enemy was subdued and the world 
fabricated by this soul becoming mixed up with the elements of 
darkness. 

17. I am not now refuting their opinions, partly because I 
have already done so and partly because I intend to do so again, 
if God permit. In this work I am showing as far as I can with 
the arguments God deigns to supply, how secure the Catholic 
faith is against them, and how the things which move men to 
give in to their opinions need not disturb the mind. You know 
my mind very well, and I want you above all to believe firmly 
that I do not make this solemn declaration with an arrogance 
which ought to be avoided. I say, whatever error is to be found 
in this book it alone is to be attributed to me. Whatever is truly 
and suitably expounded I owe entirely to God, the giver of all 
good gifts. 

x, 18. Let it be clearly understood that there could have been 
no error in religion had not the soul worshipped in place of its 
God either a soul or a body or some phantasm of its own, pos- 
sibly two of these together or all of them at once. In this life the 
soul should have frankly accepted the temporal condition of 
human society but should have directed its regard to eternal 
things and worshipped the one God without whose changeless 
permanence no mutable thing could have any abiding existence. 
Anyone who studies his own emotions can learn that the soul is 
mutable, not in space certainly but in time. That body is mut- 
able both in space and time is easy for anyone to observe. 
Phantasms are nothing but figments of corporeal shapes appear- 
ing to bodily sense. It is the easiest thing in the world to commit 
them to memory as they appear or, by thinking about them, 
to divide or multiply, contract or expand, set in order or dis- 
turb, or give them any kind of shape. But when truth is being 
sought it is difficult to be on one’s guard against them and to 
avoid them. 

19. Do not, then, let us serve the creature rather than the 
Creator, or become vain in our thoughts. That is the rule of per- 
fect religion. If we cleave to the eternal Creator we must neces- 



OF TRUE RELIGION 235 

sarily be somehow affected by eternity. But because the soul, 
implicated in and overwhelmed by its sins, cannot by itself see 
and grasp this truth, if in human experience there were no 
intermediate stage whereby man might strive to rise above his 
earthly life and reach likeness to God, God in his ineffable mercy 
by a temporal dispensation has used the mutable creation, 
obedient however to his eternal laws, to remind the soul of its 
original and perfect nature, and so has come to the aid of 
individual men and indeed of the whole human race. That is 
the Christian religion in our times. To know and follow it is the 
most secure and most certain way of salvation. 

20. This religion can be defended against loquacious persons 
and expounded to seekers in many ways. Omnipotent God may 
himself show the truth, or he may use good angels or men to 
assist men of good will to behold and grasp the truth. Everyone 
uses the method which he sees to be suitable to those with whom 
he has to do. I have given much consideration for a long 
time to the nature of the people I have met with either as carp- 
ing critics or as genuine seekers of the truth. I have also con- 
sidered my own case both when I was a critic and when I was a 
seeker; and I have come to the conclusion that this is the 
method I must use. Hold fast whatever truth you have been 
able to grasp, and attribute it to the Catholic Church. Reject 
what is false and pardon me who am but a man. What is 
doubtful believe until either reason teaches or authority lays 
down that it is to be rejected or that it is true, or that it has to 
be believed always. Listen to what follows as diligently and as 
piously as you can. For God helps men like that. 

xi, 21. There is no life which is not of God, for God is 
supreme life and the fount of life. No life is evil as life but only 
as it tends to death. Life knows no death save wickedness 
[nequitid] which derives its name from nothingness [ ne quidquam ]. 
For this reason wicked men are called men of no worth. A life, 
therefore, which by voluntary defect falls away from him who 
made it, whose essence it enjoyed, and, contrary to the law of 
God, seeks to enjoy bodily objects which God made to be 
inferior to it, tends to nothingness. This is wickedness, but not 
because the body as such is nothing. A. corporeal object has 
some concord between its parts, otherwise it could not exist at 
all. Therefore it was made by him who is the head of all concord. 
A corporeal object enjoys a certain degree of peace, due to its 
having form. Without that it would be nothing. Therefore he is 
the creator of matter, from whom all peace comes, and who is 



236 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

the uncreated and most perfect form. Matter participates in 
something belonging to the ideal world, otherwise it would not 
be matter. To ask, therefore, who created matter is to ask for 
him who is supreme in the ideal world. For every idea comes 
from him. Who is he, then, save the one God, the one truth, the 
one salvation of all, the first and highest essence from which all 
that exists derives existence as such? For all existence as such is 
good. 

22. For that reason death does not come from God. “God did 
not create death, nor does he take pleasure in the destruction of 
the living” (Wisdom 1:13). The highest essence imparts existence 
to all that exists. That is why it is called essence. Death imparts 
no actual existence to anything which has died. If it is really 
dead it has indubitably been reduced to nothingness. For things 
die only in so far as they have a decreasing part in existence. 
That can be more briefly put in this way: things die according 
as they become less. Matter is less than any kind of life, since it 
is life that keeps even the tiniest quantity of matter together in 
any thing, whether it be the life that governs any particular 
living thing, or that which governs the entire universe of natural 
things. Matter is therefore subject to death, and is thereby 
nearer to nothingness. Life which delights in material joys and 
neglects God tends to nothingness and is thereby iniquity. 

xii, 23. In this way life becomes earthly and carnal. So long 
as it is so it will not possess the kingdom of God, and what it 
loves will be snatched from it. It loves what, being matter, is 
less than life, and, on account of the sinfulness of so doing, the 
beloved object becomes corruptible, is dissolved and lost to its 
lover, even as it, in loving a material thing, has abandoned 
God. It neglected his precepts: Eat this and do not eat that. 
Therefore it is punished; for by loving inferior things it is given 
a place among the inferior creatures, being deprived of its 
pleasures and afflicted with grief. What is bodily grief but the 
sudden loss of integrity in something which the soul has made a 
bad use of, so rendering it liable to corruption? And what is 
spiritual grief but to lose mutable things which the soul enjoyed 
or hoped to be able to enjoy? This covers the whole range of 
evil, i.e., sin and its penalty. 

24. If the soul, while it continues in the course of human life, 
overcomes the desires which it has fed to its own undoing by 
enjoying mortal things, and believes that it has the aid of God’s 
grace enabling it to overcome them, if it serves God with the 
mind and a good will, it will undoubtedly be restored, and will 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


237 

return from the mutable many to the immutable One. It will 
be re-formed by the Wisdom which is not formed but has 
formed all things, and will enjoy God through the spirit, which 
is the gift of God. It becomes “spiritual man, judging all things 
and judged of none,” “loving the Lord its God with all its heart 
and all its soul and all its mind, and loving its neighbour not 
carnally but as itself. He loves himself spiritually who loves God 
with all that lives within him. On these two commandments 
hang the whole law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40). 

25. The consequence will be that after the death of the body, 
which we owe to the primal sin, in its own time and order the 
body will be restored to its pristine stability; but it will owe its 
stability not to itself but to the soul whose stability is in God. 
For the soul too owes its stability not to itself but to God whom 
it enjoys. Thus it has an ampler life than the body. For the body 
lives by the soul and the soul by the immutable truth, who is the 
only Son of God. So even the body lives by the Son of God, be- 
cause all things live by him. By God’s gift, given to the soul, 
I.e., the Holy Spirit, not only does the soul, which receives it, 
become sound and peaceful and holy, but the body also will be 
vivified and will be cleansed completely. The Master himself 
said: “Cleanse that which is within and that which is without 
shall be clean” (Matt. 23:26). And the apostle says: “He shall 
quicken your mortal bodies on account of the Spirit that 
abideth in you.” (Rom. 8:11). Take away sin, and sin’s penalty 
goes too. And where is evil? “O death, where is thy victory? O 
death, where is thy sting? Being overcomes nothingness, and so 
death is swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15*54-55). 

xiii, 26. The evil angel, who is called the devil, will have no 
power over the sanctified. Even he, so far as he is angel, is not 
evil, but only so far as he has been perverted by his own will. 
We must admit that even angels are mutable if God alone is im- 
mutable. By willing to love God rather than themselves angels 
abide firm and stable in him and enjoy his majesty, being gladly 
subject to him alone. The bad angel loved himself more than 
God, refused to be subject to God, swelled with pride, came 
short of supreme being and fell. He became less than he had 
been, because, in wishing to enjoy his own power rather than 
God’s, he wished to enjoy what was less. He never had supreme 
existence for that belongs to God alone, but he had an ampler 
existence than he has now, when he enjoyed that which 
supremely is. His present existence is not evil qua existence, but 
so far as it is less ample than it formerly was. To that extent he 



238 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

tends towards extinction. It is no marvel that his loss occasioned 
poverty, and poverty envy, which is the truly diabolical 
characteristic of the devil. 

xiv, 27. If the defect we call sin overtook a man against his 
will, like a fever, the penalty which follows the sinner and is 
called condemnation would rightly seem to be unjust. But in 
fact sin is so much a voluntary evil that it is not sin at all unless 
it is voluntary. This is so obvious that no one denies it, either of 
the handful of the learned or of the mass of the unlearned. We 
must either say that no sin has been committed or confess that 
it has been willingly committed. No one can rightly deny that a 
soul has sinned who admits that it can be corrected by penitence, 
that the penitent should be pardoned, or that he who continues 
in sin is condemned by the just law of God. Lastly if it is not by 
the exercise of will that we do wrong, no one at all is to be cen- 
sured or warned. If you take away censure and warning the 
Christian law and the whole discipline of religion is necessarily 
abolished. Therefore, it is by the will that sin is committed. And 
since there is no doubt that sins are committed, I cannot see 
that it can be doubted that souls have free choice in willing. 
God judged that men would serve him better if they served him 
freely. That could not be so if they served him by necessity and 
not by free will. 

28. The angels accordingly serve God freely. That is to their 
advantage, not God’s. God needs no good thing from others, 
for all good comes from himself. What is begotten of him is 
equally divine, begotten not made. Things which are made need 
his good, i.e., the chief good, the supreme essence. They become 
less when by sin they are less attracted to him. But they are 
never entirely separated from him. Otherwise they would not 
exist at all. Movements of the soul are the affections, depending 
on the will. Bodily movements are movements in space. Man is 
said to have been persuaded by the wicked angel, but even so it 
was his will that consented. If he had consented by necessity, 
he would have been held guilty of no sin. 

xv, 29. The human body was perfect of its kind before man 
sinned, but after he had sinned it became weak and mortal. 
Though that was the just punishment for sin, nevertheless it 
showed more of the clemency of the Lord than of his severity. 
We are thus admonished that we ought to turn our love from 
bodily pleasures to the eternal essence of truth. The beauty of 
justice is in complete accord with the grace of loving-kindness, 
seeing that we who were deceived by the sweetness of inferior 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


239 

goods should be taught by the bitterness of penalties. For divine 
providence has so moderated our punishment that even in this 
corruptible body it is permitted to us to work towards righteous- 
ness, to lay aside all pride and submit to God alone, not to trust 
in ourselves but to commit ourselves to be ruled and defended 
by him alone. So with God’s guidance a man of good will can 
turn the troubles of this present life to the advantage of courage. 
Among abounding pleasures and temporal prosperity, he may 
prove and strengthen temperance. In temptations he may 
sharpen his prudence, that he may not only not be led into them, 
but may also become more vigilant and more eager in his love 
of truth which alone never deceives. 

xvi, 30. To heal souls God adopts all kinds of means suitable 
to the times which are ordered by his marvellous wisdom. I 
must not speak of these, or at least they must be spoken of only 
among the pious and the perfect. But in no way did he show 
greater loving-kindness in his dealings with the human race for 
its good, than when the Wisdom of God, his only Son, co- 
eternal and consubstantial with the Father, deigned to assume 
human nature; when the Word became flesh and dwelt among 
us. For thus he showed to carnal people, given over to bodily 
sense and unable with the mind to behold the truth, how lofty 
a place among creatures belonged to human nature, in that he 
appeared to men not merely visibly — for he could have done 
that in some ethereal body adapted to our weak powers of 
vision — but as a true man. The assuming of our nature was to 
be also its liberation. And that no one should perchance suppose 
that the creator of sex despised sex, he became a man born of a 
woman. 

31. He did nothing by violence, but everything by persuasion 
and warning. The old servitude was past and the day of liberty 
had dawned and man was fitly and helpfully taught how he had 
been created with free will. By his miracles he, being God, pro- 
duced faith in God, and by his passion, in the human nature he 
had assumed, he furthered respect for human nature. Speaking 
to the multitudes as God he refused to recognize his mother 
when her coming was announced, and yet, as the Gospel says, 
he was obedient to his parents (Matt. 12:48, Luke 2:51). In his 
doctrine the God appeared, and the Man in the various stages 
of his life. When, as God, he was about to turn water into wine, 
he said: “Woman, depart from me; what have I to do with thee? 
My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). But when his hour had 
come when, as man, he should die, he recognized his mother 



240 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

from the Cross and commended her to the disciple whom he 
loved more than theothers (John 19:26-27). The peoples to their 
own destruction sought riches that minister to pleasures: He 
determined to be poor. They panted for honours and empires: 
He refused to be made a king. They thought it a great boon to 
have sons after the flesh. He scorned marriage and offspring. In 
their great pride they dreaded insults: He bore with insults of 
every kind. They thought injuries were not to be endured: what 
greater injury can there be than that a just and innocent man 
should be condemned. They execrated bodily pain: He was 
beaten and tortured. They feared to die: He was condemned to 
death. They thought a cross the most shameful form of death: 
He was crucified. All the things which men unrighteously desired 
to possess, he did without and so made them of no account. All 
the things which men sought to avoid and so deviated from the 
search for truth, he endured and so robbed them of their power 
over us. There is no sin that men can commit which is not 
either a seeking of what he avoided, or an avoiding of what he 
bore. 

32. His whole life on earth as Man, in the humanity he 
deigned to assume, was an education in morals. His resurrec- 
tion from the dead showed that nothing of human nature can 
perish, for all is safe with God. It showed also how all things 
serve the Creator either for the punishment of sin or for the 
liberation of man, and how the body can serve the soul when 
the soul is subject to God. When the body perfectly obeys the 
soul and the soul perfectly serves God, not only is there no evil 
substance, for that there can never be, but, better still, sub- 
stance cannot be affected by evil, for it can be so affected only 
by sin or its punishment. This natural discipline is worthy of the 
complete faith of less intelligent Christians, and for intelligent 
Christians it is free from all error. 

xvii, 33. This method of teaching fulfils the rule of all 
rational discipline. For as it teaches partly quite openly and 
partly by similitudes in word, deed and sacrament, it is adapted 
to the complete instruction and exercise of the soul. The exposi- 
tion of mysteries is guided by what is clearly stated. If there was 
nothing that could not be understood with perfect ease, there 
would be no studious search for truth and no pleasure in finding 
it. If there were sacraments in Scripture, and if they were not 
signs and tokens of truth, action would not be properly related 
to knowledge. Piety begins with fear and is perfected in love. 
So in the time of servitude under the old Law the people were 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


24I 

constrained by fear and burdened with many sacraments. That 
was advantageous for them in that they might desire the grace 
of God which the prophets foretold would come. When it came, 
the wisdom of God having assumed human nature and called us 
into liberty, few most salutary sacraments were appointed to 
maintain the society of the Christian people, i.e., of the multi- 
tude of those set free to serve the one God. Many things which 
were imposed upon the Hebrew people, i.e., a multitude bound 
by Law under the same God, are no longer observed in prac- 
tice, but they remain valid for faith and are susceptible of 
(allegorical) interpretation. They do not now bind in servile 
bonds, but they afford the mind exercise in its freedom. 

34. Whoever denies that both Testaments come from the 
same God for the reason that our people are not bound by the 
same sacraments as those by which the Jews were bound and 
still are bound, cannot deny that it would be perfectly just and 
possible for one father of a family to lay one set of commands 
upon those for whom he judged a harsher servitude to be useful, 
and a different set on those whom he deigned to adopt into the 
position of sons. If the trouble is that the moral precepts under 
the old Law are lower and in the Gospel higher, and that there- 
fore both cannot come from the same God, whoever thinks in 
this way may find difficulty in explaining how a single physician 
prescribes one medicine to weaker patients through his assis- 
tants, and another by himself to stronger patients, all to restore 
health. The art of medicine remains the same and quite un- 
changed, but it changes its prescriptions for the sick, since the 
state of their health changes. So divine providence remains 
entirely without change, but comes to the aid of mutable 
creatures in various ways, and commands or forbids different 
things at different times according to the different stages of 
their disease, whether it be the vice which is the beginning of 
death, or the final stage when death itself is imminent. In all 
cases divine providence recalls to its true and essential nature 
whatever manifests defect, i.e., tends to nothingness, and so 
strengthens it. 

xviii, 35. But you say, Why do they become defective? 
Because they are mutable. Why are they mutable? Because 
they have not supreme existence. And why so? Because they 
are inferior to him who made them. Who made them? He who 
supremely is. Who is he? God, the immutable Trinity, made 
them through his supreme wisdom and preserves them by his 
supreme loving-kindness. Why did he make them? In order that 

A.E.W. — 16 



242 Augustine: earlier writings 

they might exist. Existence as such is good, and supreme exist- 
ence is the chief good. From what did he make them? Out of 
nothing. Whatever is must have some form, and though it be 
but a minimal good it will be good and will be of God. The 
highest form is the highest good, and the lowest form is the 
lowest good. Every good thing is either God or derived from 
God. Therefore even the lowest form is of God. And the same 
may be said of species. We rightly praise alike that which has 
form and that which has species. That out of which God 
created all things had neither form nor specips, and was simply 
nothing. That which by comparison with perfect things is said 
to be without form, but which has any form at all, however 
small or inchoate, is not nothing. It, too, in so far as it has any 
being at all, is of God. 

36. Therefore, if the world was made out of some unformed 
matter, that matter was made out of absolutely nothing. If it 
was as yet unformed, still it was at least capable of receiving 
form. By God’s goodness it is “formable.” Even capacity for 
form is good. The author of all good things, who gives form, also 
gives the capacity for form. All that exists receives existence 
from God, and that which does not as yet exist but may do so, 
receives its potential existence from God. In other words, all 
that is formed receives its form from God, and from him all that 
is not yet formed receives power to be formed. Nothing has 
integrity of nature unless it be whole of its kind. From God 
comes all wholeness as every good thing comes from him. 

xix, 37. He whose mental eyes are open and are not 
darkened or confused by zeal for vain verbal victory, under- 
stands easily that all things are good even though they become 
vitiated and die; whereas vice and death are evil. Vice and death 
do no damage to anything except by depriving it of sound- 
ness, and vice would not be vice if it did no damage. If vice is 
the opposite of wholeness no doubt wholeness is good. All 
things are good which have vice opposed to them, and vice 
vitiates them. Things which are vitiated are therefore good, but 
are vitiated because they are not supremely good. Because they 
are good they are of God. Because they are not supremely good 
they are not God. The good which cannot be vitiated is God. 
All other good things are of him. They can of themselves be 
vitiated because by themselves they are nothing. God keeps 
them from being wholly vitiated, or, if vitiated, makes them 
whole. 

xx, 38. The primal vice of the rational soul is the will to do 



OF TRUE RELIGION 243 

what the highest and inmost truth forbids. Thus was man 
driven from paradise into the present world, i.e., from eternal 
things to temporal, from abundance to poverty, from strength 
to weakness. Not, however, from substantial good to substantial 
evil, for there is no substantial evil; but from eternal good to 
temporal good, from spiritual to carnal good, from intelligible 
to sensible good, from the highest to the lowest good. There is 
therefore a good which it is sin for the rational soul to love 
because it belongs to a lower order of being. The sin is evil, not 
the substance that is sinfully loved. The tree was not evil which, 
we read, was planted in the midst of paradise, but the trans- 
gression of the divine command was evil, and as a consequence 
had its just condemnation. But from the tree which was touched 
contrary to the prohibition came the power to distinguish be- 
tween good and evil. When the soul has become involved in its 
sin, it learns, by paying the penalty, the difference between the 
precept it refused to obey and the sin which it committed. In 
this way it learns by suffering to know the evil it did not learn to 
know by avoiding it. By making comparison between its former 
and its present state it loves more earnestly the good which it 
loved too little, as is seen from its failure to obey. 

39. Vice in the soul arises from its own doing; and the moral 
difficulty that ensues from vice is the penalty which it suffers. 
That is the sum-total of evil. To do and to suffer have nothing 
to do with substance; hence substance is not evil. Water is not 
evil, nor is a creature that lives in the air. But to throw oneself 
voluntarily into water and be suffocated, as the drowned man 
is, is evil. An iron style which has one part for writing with and 
another part for making deletions is ingeniously manufactured 
and beautiful in its own way, and most useful to us. But if one 
wanted to write with the part intended for making deletions, or 
to make a deletion with the writing end, one would not cause 
the style to be evil. One would rightly blame one’s own action. 
Correct the action and where will be the evil? Suppose one 
were suddenly to turn one’s eyes to look at the mid-day sun. 
The eyes would be dazzled and pained; but neither the sun nor 
the eyes would for that reason be evil. They are substances. 
Careless looking at the sun and the disturbance that is its conse- 
quence is evil. And there would be no evil if the eyes had been 
practised and made fit to look at the light. Nor is light evil 
when the light we see with our eyes is worshipped instead of the 
light of wisdom which is seen by the mind. The superstition is 
evil that serves the creature rather than the Creator; and there 



244 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

would be no such evil if the soul recognized its Creator, sub- 
jected itself to him alone, and understood that other things 
were made subject to it by him. 

40. Every corporeal creature, when possessed by a soul that 
loves God, is a good thing of the lowest order, and beautiful in 
its own way, for it is held together by form and species. If it is 
loved by a soul that neglects God, not even so is it evil in itself. 
But the sin of so loving it brings a penalty to him who so loves 
it. It involves him in miseries, and feeds him with fallacious 
pleasures which neither abide nor satisfy, but beget torturing 
sorrows. Time in all the beauty of its changefulness holds on its 
appointed course, and the thing desired escapes him who loved 
it. It torments him by passing beyond his power to sense it, and 
disturbs his mind with errors. For it makes him suppose that 
the material object which the flesh had wrongly delighted in, 
and which he had known through the uncertain senses, was the 
primal form, when in fact it was the lowest form of all; so that, 
when he thinks, he believes he understands, being deluded by 
shadowy phantasms. If he does not hold fast to the whole dis- 
cipline of divine providence but imagines he does, and tries to 
resist the flesh, he merely reaches the images of visible things. 
He vainly excogitates vast spaces of light exactly like ordinary 
light which he sees has fixed limits here, and promises himself a 
future habitation there. He does not know that he is still en- 
tangled in the lust of the eye, and that he is carrying this world 
with him in his endeavour to go beyond it. He thinks he has 
reached another world simply by falsely imagining the bright 
part of this world infinitely extended. One could do the same 
not only with light but also with water, wine, honey, gold, silver, 
even with the flesh, blood and bones of animals, and other like 
things. There is no bodily object seen singly which cannot in 
thought be infinitely multiplied, and there is nothing which, as 
we see it, occupies a small space, which cannot by the same 
faculty of imagination be infinitely extended. It is very easy to 
execrate the flesh, but very difficult not to be carnally minded. 

xxi, 41. By this perversity of the soul, due to sin and punish- 
ment, the whole corporeal creation becomes, as Solomon says: 
“Vanity of them that are vain, all is vanity. What advantage 
has man in all his labour which he does under the sun?” 
(Eccl. 1 :2). Not for nothing does he say, “of them that are vain,” 
for if you take away vain persons who pursue that which is last 
as if it were first, matter will not be vanity but will show its own 
beauty in its own way, a low type of beauty, of course, but not 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


245 

deceptive. When man fell away from the unity of God the multi- 
tude of temporal forms was distributed among his carnal senses, 
and his sensibilities were multiplied by the changeful variety. 
So abundance became laborious, and his needs, if one may say 
so, became abundant, for he pursues one thing after another, 
and nothing remains permanently with him. So what with his 
corn and wine and oil, his needs are so multiplied that he can- 
not find the one thing needful, a single and unchangeable 
nature, seeking which he would not err, and attaining which he 
would cease from grief and pain. For then he would have as a 
consequence the redemption of his body, which no longer would 
be corrupted. As it is, the corruption of the body burdens the 
soul, and its earthly habitation forces it to think of many things; 
for the humble beauty of material objects is hurried along in the 
order in which one thing succeeds another. The reason why 
corporeal beauty is the lowest beauty is that its parts cannot all 
exist simultaneously. Some things give place and others succeed 
them, and all together complete the number of temporal forms 
and make of them a single beauty. 

xxii, 42. But all this is not evil because it is transient. A line 
of poetry is beautiful in its own way though no two syllables can 
be spoken at the same time. The second cannot be spoken till 
the first is finished. So in due order the end of the line is reached. 
When the last syllable is spoken the previous ones are not heard 
at the same time, and yet along with the preceding ones it 
makes the form and metrical arrangement complete. The art of 
versifying is not subject to change with time as if its beauty was 
made up of measured quantities. It possesses, at one and the 
same time, all the rules for making the verse which consists of 
successive syllables of which the later ones follow those which 
had come earlier. In spite of this the verse is beautiful as 
exhibiting the faint traces of the beauty which the art of poetry 
keeps steadfastly and unchangeably. 

43. Some perverse persons prefer a verse to the art of versify- 
ing, because they set more store by their ears than by their 
intelligence. So many love temporal things and do not look for 
divine providence which is the maker and governor of time. 
Loving temporal things they do not want the things they love 
to pass away. They are just as absurd as anyone would be who, 
when a famous poem was being recited, wanted to hear one 
single syllable all the time. There are no such hearers of poems, 
but there are multitudes of people who think in this way about 
historical events. There is no one who cannot easily hear a whole 



246 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

verse or even a whole poem; but there is no one who can grasp 
the whole order of the ages. Besides, we are not involved as parts 
in a poem, but for our sins we are made to be parts of the secular 
order. The poem is read for us to judge of it. The course of 
history is made up of our labours. No one who is vanquished in 
competitive games finds pleasure in them, but they are honour- 
able because of his dishonour. Here is a sort of parable of the 
truth. For no other reason are we kept from such spectacles than 
lest we should be deceived by the shadows of things and wander 
from the things themselves whereof they are shadows. So the 
condition and government of the universe displeases only im- 
pious and damned souls, and, in spite of their misery, it pleases 
many who are victorious upon earth, or who look on in heaven 
without any risk. Nothing that is just displeases a just man. 

xxiii, 44. Every rational soul is made unhappy by its sins 
or happy by its well-doing. Every irrational soul yields to one 
that is more powerful, or obeys one that is better, or is on terms 
of equality with its equals, exercising rivals, or harming any it 
has overcome. Every body is obedient to its soul so far as per- 
mitted by the merits of the latter or the orderly arrangement of 
things. There is no evil in the universe, but in individuals there 
is evil due to their own fault. When the soul has been regener- 
ated by the grace of God and restored to its integrity, and made 
subject to him alone by whom it was created, its body too will 
be restored to its original strength, and it will receive power to 
possess the world, not to be possessed by the world. Then it will 
have no evil. For the lowly beauty of temporal changes will not 
involve it, for it will have been raised above change. There will 
be, as it is written, a New Heaven and a New Earth, and there 
souls will not have to do their part in toiling, but will reign over 
the universe. “All things are yours,” says the apostle, “and ye 
are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (I Cor. 3:21-23). And again: 
“The head of the woman is the man, the head of the man is 
Christ, and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor. 11:3). Accord- 
ingly, since the vice of the soul is not its nature but contrary to 
its nature, and is nothing else than sin and sin’s penalty, we 
understand that no nature, or, if you prefer it, no substance or 
essence, is evil. Nor does the universe suffer any deformity from 
the sins and punishments of its soul. Rational substance which 
is clear of all sin and subject to God dominates other things 
which are subject to it. But rational substance which has 
committed sin is appointed to be where it is fitting, so that all 
things should be glorious, God being the maker and ruler of the 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


247 

universe. The beauty of the created universe is free from all fault 
because of these three things — the condemnation of sinners, the 
proving; of the just, and the perfecting of the blessed. 

xxiv, 45. The treatment of the soul, which God’s providence 
and ineffable loving-kindness administers, is most beautiful in 
its steps and stages. There are two different methods, authority 
and reason. Authority demands belief and prepares man for 
reason. Reason leads to understanding and knowledge. But 
reason is not entirely absent from authority, for we have got to 
consider whom we have to believe, and the highest authority 
belongs to truth when it is clearly known. But because we dwell 
among temporal things, and love of them is an obstacle to our 
reaching eternal things, a kind of temporal medicine, calling 
not those who know but those who believe back to health, has 
priority by the order, not of nature or its inherent excellence, 
but of time. Wherever a man falls there he must lie until he is 
raised up. So we must strive, by means of the carnal forms which 
detain us, to come to know those of which carnal sense can 
bring us no knowledge. And by carnal sense I mean eyes, ears, 
and other bodily senses. To carnal or corporeal forms boys must 
necessarily and lovingly adhere, adolescents almost necessarily. 
But with increasing years the necessity disappears. 

xxv, 46. Divine providence not only looks after individuals 
as it were privately but also after the whole human race pub- 
licly. How it deals with individuals God knows, who does it, 
and they also know, with whom he deals. But how he deals with 
the human race God has willed to be handed down through 
history and prophecy. The trustworthiness of temporal things 
whether past or future can be believed rather than known by 
the intelligence. It is our duty to consider what men or what 
books we are to believe in order that we may rightly worship 
God, wherein lies our sole salvation. Here the first decision 
must be this: Are we to believe those who summon us to the 
worship of many gods or those who summon us to worship one 
God? Who can doubt that we ought rather to follow those who 
summon us to worship one God, especially since the wor- 
shippers of many gods agree that there is one God who rules 
all things? At least the numerical series begins from the number 
one. Those, therefore, are to be followed who say that the one 
most high God is the only true God and is to be worshipped 
alone. If the truth does not shine out brightly among them, then, 
but not till then, must we go elsewhere. In the realm of nature 
there is a presumption of greater authority when all things are 



248 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

brought into unity. In the human race a multitude has no power 
unless by consent, i.e., agreement in unity. So in religion the 
authority of those who summon us to unity ought to be greater 
and more worthy of being believed. 

47. Another thing which must be considered is the dissension 
that has arisen among men concerning the worship of the one 
God. We have heard that our predecessors, at a stage in faith on 
the way from temporal things up to eternal things, followed 
visible miracles. They could do nothing else. And they did so 
in such a way that it should not be necessary for those who came 
after them. When the Catholic Church had been founded and 
diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles 
were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should 
always seek visible things, and the human race should grow 
cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were 
novelties kindled its faith. On the other hand we must not 
doubt that those are to be believed who proclaimed miracles, 
which only a few had actually seen, and yet were able to per- 
suade whole peoples to follow them. At that time the problem 
was to get people to believe before anyone was fit to reason 
about divine and invisible things. No human authority is set 
over the reason of a purified soul, for it is able to arrive at clear 
truth. But pride does not lead to the perception of truth. If 
there were no pride there would be no heretics, no schismatics, 
no circumcised, no worshippers of creatures or of images. If 
there had not been such classes of opponents before the people 
was made perfect as promised, truth would be sought much less 
eagerly. 

xxvi, 48. This is the tradition concerning God’s temporal 
dispensation and his providential care for those who by sin had 
deservedly become mortal. First, consider the nature and educa- 
tion of any individual man who is born. His first age, infancy, is 
spent in receiving bodily nourishment, and it is to be entirely 
forgotten when he grows up. Then follows childhood when we 
begin to have some memories. To this, adolescence succeeds, 
when nature allows propagation of offspring and fatherhood. 
After adolescence comes young manhood, which must take part 
in public duties and be brought under the laws. Now sins are 
more strictly forbidden, and sinners have to undergo the servile 
coercion of penalty. In carnal souls this of itself causes more 
dreadful onsets of lust, and wrong-doing is redoubled. For sin 
has a double aspect. It is not merely wrong-doing. It is dis- 
obedience. After the labours of young manhood, a little peace 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


249 

:is given to old age. But it is an inferior age, lacking in lustre, 
weak and more subject to disease, and it leads to death. This is 
the life of man so far as he lives in the body and is bound by 
desires for temporal things. This is called “the old man” and 
“the exterior or earthly man,” even if he obtain what the vulgar 
call felicity in a well-ordered earthly city, whether ruled by 
kings or princes or laws or all of them together. For without 
these things no people can be well-ordered, not even a people 
that pursues earthly goods. Even such a people has a measure 
of beauty of its own. 

49 . 1 have described “the old or exterior or earthly man.” He 
may be a moderate man after his kind, or he may transgress the 
measure of servile justice. Some live thus from the beginning to 
the end of their days. But some begin in that way, as they 
necessarily must, but they are reborn inwardly, and with their 
spiritual strength and increase of wisdom they overcome “the 
old man” and put him to death, and bring him into subjection 
to the celestial laws, until after visible death the whole is re- 
stored. This is called “the new man,” “the inward and heavenly 
man,” whose spiritual ages are marked, not according to years, 
but according to his spiritual advance. In the first stage he 
is taught by the rich stores of history which nourish by examples. 
In the second stage he forgets human affairs and tends towards 
divine things. He is no longer kept in the bosom of human 
authority, but step by step by the use of reason he strives to 
reach the highest unchangeable law. In the third stage he con- 
fidently marries carnal appetite to strong reason, and inwardly 
rejoices in the sweetness of the union. Soul and mind are joined 
together in chaste union. There is as yet no compulsion to do 
right, but, even though no one forbids sin, he has no pleasure 
in sinning. The fourth stage is similar, only now he acts much 
more firmly, and springs forth as the perfect man, ready to 
endure and overcome all the persecutions, tempests and billows 
of this world. In the fifth stage he has peace and tranquillity on 
all sides. He lives among the abundant resources of the unchange- 
able realm of supreme ineffable wisdom. The sixth stage is 
complete transformation into life eternal, a total forgetfulness 
of temporal life passing into the perfect form which is made 
according to the image and likeness of God. The seventh is 
eternal rest and perpetual beatitude with no distinguishable 
ages. As the end of “the old man” is death, so the end of “the 
new man” is eternal life. The “old man” is the man of sin, but 
the “new man” is the man of righteousness. 



250 Augustine: earlier writings 

xxvii, 50. No one doubts that these two lives are related as 
follows: A man can live the whole of this life as “the old and 
earthly man.” But no one in this life can live as “the new and 
heavenly man,” but must associate with the “old man.” For 
he must begin there, and must so continue till death, though 
the old grows weaker and the new progresses. Similarly, the 
entire human race, whose life, like the life of an individual 
from Adam to the end of the world, is so arranged by the laws 
of divine providence that it appears divided among two classes. 
In one of these is the multitude of the impious who bear the 
image of the earthly man from the beginning to the end of the 
world. In the other is the succession of the people devoted to 
the one God. But from Adam to John the Baptist they live the 
life of the earthly man under a certain form of righteousness. 
Their history is called the Old Testament having the promise 
of a kind of earthly kingdom, which is nothing but the image 
of the new people and the New Testament, with the promise of 
the kingdom of heaven. Meantime the life of this people begins 
with the coming of the Lord in humility and goes on till the day 
of judgment, when he will come in all clearness. After the judg- 
ment the “old man” will come to an end, and there will take 
place the change that betokens the angelic life. For we shall all 
be raised, but we shall not all be changed (I Cor. 15:51). The 
pious people will be raised as they transform the remnants of the 
“old man” that cling to them into the “new man.” The impious 
people who have kept the “old man” from the beginning to the 
end, will be raised in order to be precipitated into the second 
death. Those who read diligently can make out the divisions of the 
ages. They have no horror of tares or chaff. For the impious lives 
with the pious, and the sinner with the righteous, so that, by com- 
paring the two, men may more eagerly rise to seek perfection. 

xxviii, 51. If any of the earthly people at any time had the 
merit of reaching the illumination of the inward man, he gave 
to the human race in his day his aid showing it what that age 
required, hinting by prophecy what it was not opportune to 
show clearly. Such were the patriarchs and the prophets. So 
those discover who do not behave like children, but who 
diligently and piously handle this good and great secret of the 
divine-human relations. In the time of the new people I see 
that this has been most carefully provided by great and spiritual 
men for the nurselings of the Catholic Church. They are not to 
treat publicly of what they know is not seasonable to be 
handled before the people. They earnestly feed the multitude of 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


251 

those who are weak and needy with copious supplies of milky 
food; and the few who are wise they feed with stronger meats. 
They speak wisdom among the perfect, but from the carnal 
and the psychics, though they be “new men/’ they keep some 
things back, because they are still children, but they never lie. 
They do not look to vain honours and vain praise for themselves, 
but to the advantage of those with whom they have deserved to 
be associated in this life. This is the law of divine providence 
that no one is to receive assistance from his superiors to know 
and grasp the grace of God, unless he is prepared with a pure 
affection to assist his inferiors to the same. So out of our sin, 
which our nature committed in the first sinful man, the human 
race is made the great glory and ornament of the world, and is 
so properly governed by the provisions of divine providence that 
the art of God’s ineffable healing turns even the foulness of sin 
into something that has a beauty of its own. 

xxix, 52. We have said enough for the present about the 
benefit of authority. Let us see how far reason can advance from 
visible to invisible things in its ascent from temporal to eternal 
things. We should not vainly behold the beauty of the sky, the 
order of the stars, the brightness of light, the alternations of day 
and night, the monthly courses of the moon, the fourfold seasons 
of the year, the meeting of the four elements, the life-force of 
seeds begetting forms and numbers, and all things that keep 
their nature and their appropriate measure each in its own kind. 
In considering these things there should be no exercise of vain 
and perishing curiosity, but a step should be taken towards im- 
mortal things that abide for ever. The first thing to notice is 
living nature which senses all these things. Because it gives life 
to the body it must necessarily excel the body. No mass of 
matter, however great or however bright, is to be held of much 
account if it is without life. Any living substance is by the law 
of nature to be preferred to any inanimate substance. 

53. No one doubts that irrational animals also live and feel. 
So in the human mind the most excellent part is not that which 
perceives sensible objects but that which judges of sensible ob- 
jects. Many animals see more sharply and have a keener sense 
of corporeal objects than men have. But to judge of bodies be- 
longs not to life that is merely sentient, but to life that has also 
the power of reasoning. Where the animals are lacking, there is 
our excellence. It is easy to see that that which judges is superior 
to that which is judged. For living reason judges not only of 
sensible things but also of the senses themselves. It knows why 



252 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

the oar dipped in water must appear crooked though it is really 
straight, and why the eyes must see it in that way. Ocular 
vision can only tell us that it is so but cannot judge. Wherefore 
it is manifest that as the life of sense excels the body the life of 
reason excels both. 

xxx, 54. If rational life judges by itself alone, then there is 
nothing more excellent. But clearly it is mutable, since it can 
be skilled at one moment and unskilled at another. The more 
skilled it is the better it judges, and its skill is in proportion to its 
participation in some art, discipline or wisdom. Now we must 
ask what is the nature of an art. By an art in this context I 
would have you understand not something that is observed by 
experience but something that is found out by reason. There is 
nothing very remarkable in knowing that sand and lime bind 
stones more securely together than mud, or that he who would 
build elegantly, must put a feature that is to be unique in the 
middle of the building, and, if there are several features, they 
must be made to correspond, like with like. That is sense-know- 
ledge, but it is not far from reason and truth. We must indeed 
inquire what is the cause of our being dissatisfied if two windows 
are placed not one above the other but side by side, and one of 
them is greater or less than the other, for they ought to have 
been equal; while, if they are placed one directly above 
the other, even though they are unlike, the inequality does not 
offend us in the same way. Why don’t we notice very much how 
much the one is greater or less than the other? If there are three 
windows, sense itself seems to demand either that they should 
not be unequal, or that between the largest and the smallest 
there should be an intermediate one as much larger than the 
smallest as it is smaller than the largest. In this way we take 
counsel with nature, as it were, to see what she approves. And 
here we must observe how that which displeases us only a little 
when we simply look at it, is rejected when we compare it with 
what is better. Thus we discover that art in the popular sense is 
nothing but the memory of things we have experienced and 
which have given us pleasure, with the addition of some skilled 
bodily activity. If you lack the skill you can still judge of the 
works produced even though you cannot produce them. And 
the power of judging is much better. 

55. In all the arts it is symmetry that gives pleasure, pre- 
serving unity and making the whole beautiful. Symmetry 
demands unity and equality, the similarity of like parts, or the 
graded arrangements of parts which are dissimilar. But who can 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


253 

find absolute equality or similarity in bodily objects? Who 
would venture to say, after due consideration, that any body is 
truly and simply one? All are changed by passing from form to 
form or from place to place, and consist of parts each occupying 
its own place and extended in space. True equality and simili- 
tude, true and primal unity, are not perceived by the eye of 
flesh or by any bodily sense, but are known by the mind. How 
is equality of any kind demanded in bodies, and how are we 
convinced that any equality that may be seen there is far dif- 
ferent from perfect equality, unless the mind sees that which is 
perfect? If indeed that which is not made [facta] can be called 
perfect [perfecta], 

56. All things which are beautiful to the senses, whether they 
are produced by nature or are worked out by the arts, have a 
spatial or temporal beauty, as for example the body and its 
movements. But the equality and unity which are known only 
by the mind, and according to which the mind judges of cor- 
poreal beauty by the intermediary of the senses, are not extended 
in space or unstable in time. It would be wrong to say that a 
wheel can be judged to be round by this standard, while a little 
jar cannot, or ajar can but a penny cannot. So in the case of 
times and motions of corporeal things, it would be ridiculous to 
say that years can be judged by any standard to be of equal 
length but months cannot, or that months can and days cannot. 
Whether a proper movement occupies a larger space of time or 
is measured by hours or brief minutes, all are judged by one and 
the same standard of changeless equality. If greater and smaller 
movements and spatial figures are all judged according to the 
same standard of equality or similitude or fitness, the standard 
is greater than all of them in potency. But it is neither greater 
nor less in a spatial or a temporal sense. If it were greater we 
should not use the whole of it to judge things that are less. If it 
were smaller we could not use it to judge things that are larger. 
As it is, we use the absolute standard of squareness to judge the 
squareness of a market-place, a stone, a table or a gem. And we 
use the absolute standard of equality to judge the movements of 
the feet of a running ant and those of an elephant on the march. 
Who then can doubt that it is neither greater nor less in a 
spatial or temporal sense, but in potency surpasses all else? 
This standard of all the arts is absolutely unchangeable, but the 
human mind, which is given the power to see the standard, can 
suffer the mutability of error. Clearly, then, the standard which 
is called truth is higher than our minds. 



254 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

xxxi, 57. We must not have any doubt that the unchange- 
able substance which is above the rational mind, is God. The 
primal life and primal essence is where the primal wisdom is. 
This is unchangeable truth which is the law of all the arts and 
the art of the omnipotent artificer. In perceiving that it cannot 
judge by itself the form and movement of bodies, the soul ought 
at the same time to realize that its nature excels the nature of 
what it judges, but also that it is excelled by the nature 
according to which it judges and concerning which it cannot 
judge. I can say why the corresponding members of a single 
body, one on the one side and the other on the other, ought to 
be alike, because I delight in absolute equality which I behold 
not with the bodily eyes but with the mind. And therefore I 
judge that things seen with the eyes are better the nearer 
they are in their own kind to the things which I know with my 
mind. No one can say why these intelligible things should be as 
they are; and no one in his sober senses should say that they 
ought to be as they are, as if they could be otherwise. 

58. No one, if he rightly understands the matter, will venture 
to say why intelligible things please us, and why when we are 
wise we earnestly love them. As we and all rational souls rightly 
judge of inferior creatures when we judge according to truth, 
so truth alone judges of us when we cleave to it. Not even the 
Father judges of truth, for it is not less than he is. What the 
Father judges he judges by means of the truth. All things which 
seek unity have this rule or form or example, or whatever it is 
to be called. For unity alone bears the whole similitude of him 
from whom it has received existence, if it is not incongruous to 
say “it has received existence 55 in view of the significance which 
attaches to the word Son. In any case it derives its existence not 
from itself but from the first and highest principle which is called 
the Father: “from whom the whole family in heaven and on 
earth is named 55 (Eph. 3:15). “The Father therefore judge th no 
man, but hath given all judgment to the Son 55 (John 5:22). 
“The spiritual man judgeth all things and is himself judged of 
none 55 (I Cor. 2:15), that is by no man, but only by the law 
according to which he judges all things. Wherefore it is most 
truly said “we must all appear before the judgment throne of 
Christ 55 (II Cor. 5:10). He judges all things because he is above 
all when he is with God. He is with God when he knows most 
purely and loves what he knows with all charity. Accordingly, 
the law is that according to which he judges all things and con- 
cerning which no man can judge. In the case of temporal laws, 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


255 

men have instituted them and judge by them, and when they 
have been instituted and confirmed no judge may judge them 
but must judge according to them. He who draws up temporal 
laws, if he is a good and wise man, takes eternal life into account, 
and that no soul may judge. He determines for the time being 
what is to be commanded and forbidden according to the im- 
mutable rules of eternal life. Pure souls may rightly know the 
eternal law but may not judge it. The difference is that, for 
knowing, it is enough to see that a thing is so and not jo. For 
judging, it is necessary in addition to see that a thing can be 
thus or not thus; as when we say it ought to be thus, or to have 
been thus, or to be thus in the future, as workmen do with 
their works. 

xxxii, 59. But many stop with what delights men and are 
unwilling to rise to higher things, so that they may judge why 
visible things give pleasure. If I ask a workman why, after con- 
structing one arch, he builds another like it over against it, he 
will reply, I dare say, that in a building like parts must corre- 
spond to like. If I go further and ask why he thinks so, he will 
say that it is fitting, or beautiful, or that it gives pleasure to those 
who behold it. But he will venture no further. He will bow and 
direct his eyes downward and not understand the cause for all 
this. But if I have to do with a man with inward eyes who can 
see the invisible, I shall not cease to press the query why these 
things give pleasure, so that he may dare to be the judge of 
human pleasure. He transcends it and escapes from its control 
in judging pleasure and not according to pleasure. First I shall 
ask him whether things are beautiful because they give pleasure, 
or give pleasure because they are beautiful. Then I shall ask 
him why they are beautiful, and if he is perplexed, I shall add 
the question whether it is because its parts correspond and are 
so joined together as to form one harmonious whole. 

60. When he sees that that is so, I shall ask whether they 
completely achieve the unity they aim at, or fall far short of it, 
and in a measure misrepresent it. No one who is put on his 
guard can fail to see that there is no form or material thing 
which does not have some trace of unity, or that no material 
thing however beautiful can possibly achieve the unity it aims 
at, since it must necessarily have its parts separated by intervals 
of space. If this is so, I shall ask him to tell me where he sees that 
unity, and what is its source; and if he cannot see it, how does 
he know what it is that material things imitate but cannot com- 
pletely achieve. If he says of material things: You would not 



256 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

exist unless some kind of unity held you together, but on the 
other hand if you were unity itself you would not be material 
things? the correct reply would be: Whence have you acquired 
the knowledge of unity according to which you judge material 
things. Unless you had seen it you would not be able to judge 
that they come short of it. You would not be right to say that 
you see it with your bodily eyes, although things do show traces 
of it, but they come nowhere near it. With the bodily eyes you 
see nothing but corporeal things. Therefore it is with the mind 
that we see true unity. But where? If it were here where our 
body is, it would not be visible to a man who in eastern parts 
judges in the same way about corporeal things. It is not, then, 
circumscribed by space. It is present wherever anyone judges in 
this way. It is nowhere present spatially, but its potency is 
nowhere absent. 

xxxiii, 61. If corporeal things travesty unity, we must not 
trust things that deceive, lest we fall into the vanities of them 
that are vain. Since they deceive by appearing to show to the 
eye of flesh the unity which is seen by the mind alone, we must 
rather ask whether they deceive by resembling unity or in 
failing to achieve unity. If they achieved it they would be com- 
pletely identical with what they imitate. In that case there 
would be no difference at all. If that were so there would be 
no deception. They would be exactly what unity is. In any case, 
if you consider the matter closely they do not actively deceive. 
He is a deceiver who wants to appear what he is not. He who, 
without willing it, is thought to be other than he is, is not a 
deceiver but simply causes mistakes. This is how a deceiver is 
distinguished from one who causes mistakes. Every deceiver has 
the will to deceive, whether he is believed or not. But mistakes 
can be caused by one who has no intention to deceive. Therefore 
a corporeal form, which can have no will of its own, does not 
deceive. Nor does it cause mistakes if it is not thought to be 
what it is not. 

62. Even the eyes do not cause mistakes, for they can report 
nothing to the mind except what they actually see. If not only the 
eyes but also all the bodily senses report simply as they are 
affected, I know not what more we ought to expect of them. If 
there are no vain people there will be no vanity. Anyone who 
thinks that the oar is broken in the water and is restored when 
it is taken out has nothing wrong with his senses, but he is a bad 
judge of what they convey to him. By nature he could have seen 
nothing else in the water, nor ought he to have seen anything 



OF TRUE RELIGION 257 

else. Air and water differ, so it is proper that sensations should 
be different according as they relate to things in air and in 
water. So the eye does its duty correctly, for it was made simply 
to see. But the mind operates perversely, for it and not the eye 
was made to contemplate supreme beauty. Such a man as we 
have been speaking of wants to turn his mind to corporeal 
things and his eyes to God. He seeks to know carnal things and 
to see spiritual things. But that is impossible. 

xxxiv, 63. That perversity must be corrected. Otherwise 
things are all out of order, up is down and down is up. Such a 
man will not be fit for the kingdom of heaven. Do not let us 
seek the highest in the lowest, nor cleave to the lowest. Let us 
judge these things lest we be judged along with them. Let us 
attribute to them no more than, as lowest forms, they deserve, 
lest seeking the first in the last, we be numbered with the last 
instead of with the first. That is no disadvantage to these lowest 
things but is a great disadvantage to us. The divine providential 
government is not on that account any less fitting because 
the unjust are put in their just place and the foul are fairly 
dealt with. If the beauty of visible things causes us to make 
mistakes because it consists in unity but does not completely 
achieve unity, let us understand if we can that the mistake 
arises not from what they are but from what they are not. 
Every corporeal thing is a true body but a false unity. For it is 
not supremely one and does not completely imitate unity. 
And yet it would not be a body either if it did not have some 
unity. Besides it could have no unity unless it derived it from 
supreme unity. 

64. Obstinate souls! Give me a single man who can see without 
being influenced by imaginations derived from things seen in 
the flesh. Give me a single man who can see that there is no 
principle of unity but that alone from which all unity derives, 
whether it be complete unity or not. Point me out one who sees, 
not one who merely cavils, and wants to appear to see what he 
does not see. Give me a man who can resist the carnal senses and 
the impressions which they impose on the mind; one who can 
resist human custom and human praise, who suffers the stings 
of conscience on his bed and restores his soul, who loves not 
external vanities nor seeks lies; who can say to himself: If there 
is only one Rome which some Romulus is said to have founded 
on the Tiber, that is a false Rome which I conjure up in my 
thoughts. My imaginary Rome is not the real Rome, nor am I 
really there; otherwise I should know what was taking place 
a .*. w . — 17 



258 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

there. If there is one sun, that is a false one which I conjure up 
in thought, for the real sun pursues its course in its appointed 
place and time. The imaginary sun I place where and when I 
will. If my friend is one, I conjure up a false image. I do not 
know where the real one is, but the imaginary one is where I 
like to put him. I myself am one person, and I feel that my 
body is here, but in imagination I go where I like, and speak to 
whom I like. These imaginary things are false, and what is 
false cannot be known. When I contemplate them and believe 
in them, I do not have knowledge, because what I contemplate 
with the intelligence must be true, and not by any possibility 
what are commonly called phantasms. Whence, then, is my mind 
full of illusions? Where is the truth which the mind beholds? 
It can be replied to one who thinks in this way that that is the 
true light which enables you to know that these things are not 
true. By the true light you see the unity whereby you judge 
whatever you see to be one. But it is quite a different thing 
from any mutable thing you can see. 

xxxv, 65. If your mind eagerly pants to behold these 
things, keep quiet. Do not strive except against being accus- 
tomed to material things. Conquer that habit and you are vic- 
torious over all. We seek unity, the simplest thing of all. There- 
fore let us seek it in simplicity of heart. “Be still and know that 
I am God” (Ps. 46:10). This is not the stillness of idleness but of 
thought, free from space and time. Swelling fleeting phantasms 
do not permit us to see abiding unity. Space offers us something 
to love, but time steals away what we love and leaves in the soul 
crowds of phantasms which incite desire for this or that. Thus 
the mind becomes resdess and unhappy, vainly trying to hold 
that by which it is held captive. It is summoned to stillness so 
that it may not love the things which cannot be loved without 
toil. So it will master them. It will hold them and not be held 
by them. “My yoke,” says the Lord, “is light” (Matt. 11:30). 
He who is subject to that yoke has everything else subject to 
himself. He will not labour, for what is subject does not resist. 
Men could be masters of this world if they were willing to be 
the sons of God, for God has given them the power to become 
his sons. But the unhappy friends of this world so fear to be 
separated from its embrace that nothing is more toilsome to 
them than to be at rest. 

xxxvi, 66. Whoever clearly sees that falsehood is thinking 
something is what it is not, knows that truth is that which de- 
clares what is. If material things deceive us in so far as they fall 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


259 

short of the unity which they demonstrably imitate, we naturally 
approve them; for that is the principle from which all unity 
derives, and to resemble which all things strive. We equally 
disapprove all that departs from unity and tends towards its 
opposite,. We can understand that there is something so resem- 
bling the sole unity and principle of all unity that it coincides 
with it and is identical with it. This is truth, the Word that was 
in the beginning [in principio ], the divine Word that was with 
God. If falsehood springs from things which imitate unity, not 
in so far as they imitate it but in so far as they cannot achieve it, 
the truth which does achieve it, and is identical with it, is 
unity and manifests unity as it is in reality. Hence, it is rightly 
called unity’s Word and Light. Other things may be said to be 
like unity in so far as they have being, and so far they are also true. 
But this is itself the complete likeness of unity, and is therefore 
truth. Truth makes all things true which are true, and likeness 
makes things like which are alike. Truth is the form of all things 
which are true, and likeness of all things which are alike. Since 
things are true in so far as they have being, and have being in 
so far as they resemble the source of all unity, that is, the form 
of all things that have being, which is the supreme likeness of 
the principle. It is also perfect truth because it is without any 
unlikeness. 

67. Falsehood arises not because things deceive us, for they 
can show the beholder nothing but their form, and that they 
have received according to their position in the scale of beauty. 
Nor do the senses deceive us, for when they are in contact with 
natural objects they report to their presiding mind nothing but 
the impressions formed upon them. It is sin which deceives 
souls, when they seek something that is true but abandon or 
neglect truth. They love the works of the artificer more than the 
artificer or his art, and are punished by falling into the error of 
expecting to find the artificer and his art in his works, and when 
they cannot do so they think that the works are both the art and 
the artificer. God is not offered to the corporeal senses, and 
transcends even the mind. 

xxxvii, 68. This is the origin of all impiety of sinners who 
have been condemned for their sins. Not only do they wish to 
scrutinkse the creation contrary to the commandment of God, 
and to enjoy it rather than God’s law and truth — that was the 
sin of the first man who misused his free will— but in their state 
of condemnation they also make this addition to their sin. They 
not only love but also serve the creature rather than the Creator, 



260 augustine: earlier writings 

and worship the parts of the creation from the loftiest to the 
lowliest. Some worship the soul in place of the most high God, 
the first intellectual creature which the Father made by means 
of the truth, that it might ever behold the truth, and beholding 
the truth might also behold himself whom the truth resembles in 
every way. Next, men come to the living creature through which 
God eternal and unchangeable makes things visible and tem- 
poral in the realm of becoming. Then they slip further down and 
worship animals and even material things, among which they 
first choose the more beautiful, above all the heavenly bodies. 
Some are satisfied with the sun, the most obvious of the heavenly 
bodies. Others think the moon worthy of religious veneration 
because of its brightness. It is nearer to us, we are told, and so is 
felt to have a form that is closer to us. Others add the rest of 
the stars and the sky as a whole with its constellations. Others 
join the air to the ethereal sky and make their souls subordinate 
to these two superior corporeal elements. But those think them- 
selves most religious who worship the whole created universe, 
that is, the world with all that is in it, and the life which inspires 
and animates it, which some believe to be corporeal, others in- 
corporeal. The whole of this together they think to be one great 
God, of whom all things are parts. They have not known the 
author and maker of the universe. So they abandon themselves 
to idols, and, forsaking the works of God, they are immersed in 
the works of their own hands, all of them visible things. 

xxxviii, 69. There is another worse and lower idolatry 
which worships phantasms. Whatever the erring soul in its 
swelling pride can imagine, they hold as an object of religious 
worship until at last some conclude that nothing at all should 
be worshipped, and that men err who allow themselves to get 
involved in superstition and miserable servitude. But these 
opinions are vain. They cannot make themselves free. There 
remain the vices, and they are drawn towards the notion of 
worshipping them. They are slaves of desire in three forms — 
desire of pleasure, desire of excelling, desire of novel entertain- 
ment. I say that there is no man who holds that there is nothing 
he ought to worship, who is not the slave of carnal pleasures, or 
seeks vain power, or is madly delighted by some showy spec- 
tacle. So, without knowing it, they love temporal things and hope 
for blessedness therefrom. Whether he will or no, a man is 
necessarily a slave to the things by means of which he seeks to 
be happy. He follows them whithersoever they lead, and fears 
anyone who seems to have the power to rob him of them. Now a 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


26 l 


spark of fire or a tiny animal can do that. In short, not to men- 
tion innumerable adverse possibilities, time itself must snatch 
away all transient things. Now since the world includes all 
temporal things, those who think to escape servitude by not 
worshipping anything are in fact the slaves of all kinds of 
worldly things. In their present extremity unhappy men are so 
placed that they allow their vices to lord it over them, and are 
condemned for their lust, pride or curiosity, or for two of them 
or all together. Nevertheless, so long as they are in this stadium 
of human life they may attack these vices and overcome them, 
if they begin by believing what they cannot yet grasp with the 
understanding, and thereby cease to love the world. As it is 
written: “All that is in the world is lust of the flesh, lust of the 
eyes, and ambition of this world” (I John 2:16). Three classes 
of men are thus distinguished; for lust of the flesh means those 
who love the lower pleasures, lust of the eyes means the curious, 
and ambition of this world denotes the proud. 

71. The threefold temptation of the Man whom the truth 
assumed has given us an example for our warning. “Bid these 
stones that they become bread,” says the tempter. To which our 
one and only teacher replies: “Man does not live by bread alone, 
but by every word of God” (Matt. 4:3-4). So he taught that 
desire for pleasure should be brought under, and that we should 
not yield even to hunger. But possibly some one who could not 
be overcome by the pleasures of the flesh could be by the pomp 
of temporal domination. So all the kingdoms of the world were 
shown, and the tempter said: “All these things will I give thee, 
if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” To this it was replied: 
“Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou 
serve” (Matt. 4:9-10). So was pride trodden under foot. More- 
over the utmost enticements of curiosity were also overcome. 
For the only reason for urging him to cast himself down from 
the pinnacle of the temple was that he might have a remarkable 
experience. Not even so was he overcome, but in order that we 
should understand that to know God there is no need to explore 
divine power by subjecting it to visible experiments, he replied: 
“Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matt. 4:7). Where- 
fore he who is inwardly fed upon the Word of God does not 
seek pleasure in the desert. He who is subject to the one God 
does not seek glory on the mountain, that is, in earthly elation. 
He who begins to cleave to the eternal spectacle of unchange- 
able truth is not thrown down by the pinnacle of the body, that 
is, the eyes, to seek to know inferior and temporal things. 



262 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


xxix, 72. What obstacle then remains to hinder the soul 
from recalling the primal beauty which it abandoned, when it 
can make an end of its vices? The Wisdom of God extends from 
end to end with might. By wisdom the great Artificer knit his 
works together with one glorious end in view. His goodness has 
no grudging envy against any beauty from the highest to the 
lowest, for none can have being except from him alone. So that 
no one is utterly cast away from the truth who has in him the 
slightest vestige of truth. What is it about bodily pleasure that 
holds us fast? You will find that it is agreeableness. Disagreeable 
things beget grief and agreeable things beget pleasure. Seek 
therefore the highest agreeableness. Do not go abroad. Return 
within yourself. In the inward man dwells truth. If you find 
that you are by nature mutable, transcend yourself. But remem- 
ber in doing so that you must also transcend yourself even as a 
reasoning soul. Make for the place where the light of reason is 
kindled. What does every good reasoner attain but truth? And 
yet truth is not reached by reasoning, but is itself the goal of all 
who reason. There is an agreeableness than which there can be 
no greater. Agree, then, with it. Confess that you are not as it is. 
It has to do no seeking, but you reach it by seeking, not in space, 
but by a disposition of mind, so that the inward man may agree 
with the indwelling truth in a pleasure that is not low and 
carnal but supremely spiritual. 

73. If you do not grasp what I say and doubt whether it is 
true, at least make up your mind whether you have any doubt 
about your doubts. If it is certain that you do indeed have 
doubts, inquire whence comes that certainty. It will never occur 
to you to imagine that it comes from the light of the sun, but 
rather from that “true light which lighteth every man that 
cometh into the world. 55 It cannot be seen with these eyes, nor 
with the eyes which seem to see the phantasms of the brain, 
but with those that can say to phantasms: You are not the 
thing I am seeking. Nor are you the standard by which I put 
you in your rightful place, disapproving of all that is base in you, 
and approving of all that is beautiful. The standard according 
to which I approve and disapprove is still more beautiful, so I 
approve more highly of it and prefer it not only to you but to all 
those bodily shapes from which you spring. Now think of the 
rule in this way. Everyone who knows that he has doubts knows 
with certainty something that is true, namely, that he doubts. 
He is certain, therefore, about a truth. Therefore everyone who 
doubts whether there be such a thing as the truth has at least a 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


263 

truth to set a limit to his doubt; and nothing can be true except 
truth be in it. Accordingly, no one ought to have doubts about 
the existence of the truth, even if doubts arise for him from every 
possible quarter. Wherever this is seen, there is light that trans- 
cends space and time and all phantasms that spring from spatial 
and temporal things. Could this be in the least destroyed even 
if every reasoner should perish or grow old among inferior 
carnal things? Reasoning does not create truth but discovers 
it. Before it is discovered it abides in itself; and when it is 
discovered it renews us. 

xl, 74. So the inward man is reborn, and the outward man 
decays day by day. The inward man regards the outward man 
and sees that he is base by comparison. Nevertheless, in his own 
kind he is beautiful and rejoices in what is convenient for the 
body, destroying what he converts to his own good, e.g., the 
nourishment he takes for the sake of his body. That which is 
destroyed, i.e., loses its form, passes into the workshop of his 
members, nourishes what needs nourishment and is trans- 
formed as is suitable. Somehow the processes of life make a 
selection. Some things which are suitable are assumed into the 
structure of the visible body and make it beautiful. Those which 
are not suitable are cast out by appropriate means. The most 
filthy part is returned to the earth to assume other forms. 
Something is exhaled by the whole body. Another part receives 
the latent numerical qualities of the living person, and is fitted 
to result in offspring. Prompted by the agreement of two bodies 
or by some like phantasm, it flows from the genital organs in 
basest pleasure, though not without the co-operation of the 
head. Within the mother over a fixed period of time it takes 
shape, and the members assume their proper place and func- 
tion, and if they preserve their proper measure and symmetry 
and colour is added, a body is born which is called comely and 
is keenly loved by those who take delight in it. But what gives 
pleasure is not so much the mobile form as the life which causes 
the mobility. For if the child loves us it strongly attracts us. If 
it hates us we are angry and cannot endure it, even though 
its form be such as we might enjoy. All this is the realm of 
pleasure and of beauty of the lowest grade. It is subject to 
corruption, otherwise it would be mistaken for the supreme 
beauty. 

75. Divine providence is at hand to show that the beauty of 
the human form is not evil, because it exhibits manifest traces 
of the primal numbers, though divine wisdom is not numbered 



264 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

among them; but also that it is beauty of the lowest grade, for 
mixed up with it are griefs and diseases, distortions of limbs, 
darkness of colour, and conflicts and dissensions of mind. By 
these things we are admonished that we must seek something 
unchangeable. These evils providence brings about by the 
agency of inferior beings who find their pleasure in doing this, 
and whom the divine Scriptures call avengers and ministers of 
wrath, though they themselves do not know the good that is 
being done by means of them. Like these are men who rejoice 
in the miseries of others, and make sport and mocking spectacles 
by subverting others or by leading them astray. In all these 
things the good are admonished and exercised, and they are 
victorious, triumphant and regal. But the bad are deceived and 
tortured. They are vanquished, condemned and made to be 
slaves, not of the one most high Lord of all, but of his lowest 
servants, the bad angels who feed upon the griefs and misery 
of the damned, and in return for their malevolence are tortured 
when they see the good set free. 

76. All have their offices and limits laid down so as to ensure 
the beauty of the universe. That which we abhor in any part of 
it gives us the greatest pleasure when we consider the universe 
as a whole. When we are judging a building we ought not to 
consider one angle only. So when we are judging a good-looking 
man we should not take account only of his hair. And with one 
who is making a good speech we should not merely pay attention 
to the motion of his hands. When we are thinking of the moon’s 
course we should not study its phases over a period of merely 
three days. The very reason why some things are inferior is 
that though the parts may be imperfect the whole is perfect, 
whether its beauty is seen stationary or in movement. It must 
all be considered if we wish to reach a right judgment. If our 
judgment concerning the whole or the part is true, it is also 
beautiful. It is superior to the whole world, and in so far as our 
judgment is true we cling to no part of the world. When we are 
wrong, and pay exclusive attention to the part, our judgment is 
in itself base. The colour black in a picture may very well be 
beautiful if you take the picture as a whole. So the entire con- 
test of human life is fittingly conducted by the unchanging 
providence of God who allots different roles to the vanquished 
and the victorious, the contestants, the spectators, and the tran- 
quil who contemplate God alone. In all these cases there is no 
evil except sin and sin’s penalty, that is, a voluntary abandon- 
ment of highest being, and toil among inferior beings which is 



OF TRUE RELIGION 265 

not voluntary; in other words, freedom from justice and slavery 
under sin. 

xli, 77. The outward man is destroyed either by the pro- 
gress of the inward man, or by his own failure. When he is 
destroyed by the progress of the inward man, the whole man is 
reformed and made better, and is restored to his integrity “at 
the last trump.” No longer will he corrupt or be corrupted. 
By his own failure he is cast down among corruptible beauties 
which rank as penalties. Do not be surprised if I still call them 
beautiful things, for everything is beautiful that is in due order. 
As the apostle says: “All order is of God” (Rom. 13:2). We must 
admit that a weeping man is better than a happy worm. And 
yet I could speak at great length without any falsehood in 
praise of the worm. I could point out the brightness of its 
colouring, the slender rounded shape of its body, the fitness of 
its parts from front to rear, and their effort to preserve unity as 
far as is possible in so lowly a creature. There is nothing any- 
where about it that does not correspond to something else 
that matches it. What am I to say about its soul animating its 
tiny body? Even a worm’s soul causes it to move with precision, 
to seek things suitable for it, to avoid or overcome difficulties as 
far as possible. Having regard always to the sense of safety, its 
soul hints much more clearly than its body at the unity which 
creates all natures. I am speaking of any kind of living worm. 
Many have spoken fully and truly in praise of ashes and dung. 
What wonder is it then if I say that a man’s soul, which, wher- 
ever it is and whatever its quality, is better than any body, is 
beautifully ordered, and that other beauties arise even from 
the penalties it undergoes? For when it is unhappy it is not 
where it is fitting that only the happy should be, but where it is 
fitting that the unhappy should be. 

78. Henceforth, let no one deceive us. Whatever is rightly 
to be blamed is spurned in comparison with what is better. 
Every existing thing however lowly is justly praised when 
it is compared with nothingness. Nothing is good if it can 
be better. If we can be in good case having the truth itself, 
our state is bad if we have only a trace of truth, and much 
worse if the trace is extremely slight as when we adhere to fleshly 
pleasures. Let us conquer the blandishments and troubles of 
desire. If we are men let us subdue this woman, Cupiditas . With 
our guidance she will herself become better and be called no 
longer Cupidity but Temperance. When she leads and we fol- 
low she is called Lust and we Rashness and Folly. Let us follow 



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Christ our Head, that she whose head we are may follow us. 
This precept can be laid upon women too, not by marital but 
by fraternal right. In Christ there is neither male nor female. 
Women too have some virile quality whereby they can subdue 
feminine pleasures, and serve Christ and govern desire. This 
is exemplified by many godly widows and virgins, and in many 
too who are married but who by the dispensation of the Chris- 
tian people preserve conjugal rights in the bond of fraternity. 
God bids us dominate desire, and exhorts us and gives us the 
power to be restored to our own possession. If therefore by 
negligence or impiety a man, i.e., mind and reason, is subdued 
by desire he will be a base and unhappy man. His destiny in this 
life and his ordained place hereafter will be where the most high 
Ruler and Lord will apportion him. The universal creation 
may not be stained by any filthiness. 

xlii, 79. Let us therefore walk while we have the day, i.e., 
while we can use reason. Let us turn to God so that we may 
deserve to be illumined by his Word, the true light, and that 
darkness may not take possession of us. Day is the presence of 
the ‘ light that lighteth every man coming into the world” 
(John 1:9). “Every man,” says Scripture, meaning everyone 
who can use reason, and who, when he has fallen, can earnestly 
seek to rise. If fleshly pleasure is loved, let it be carefully con- 
sidered and vestigial traces of number will be recognized in it. 
We must, then, seek the realm where number exists in complete 
tranquillity; for there existence is, above all, unity. And if 
number is found in living movement, as for example in growing 
seeds, it will be even more wonderful than when found in cor- 
poreal things. If in seeds number could change and swell as 
seeds themselves do, half a tree would grow from half a fig-seed. 
Whole and complete animals would not be produced except 
from complete animal seeds (as they are in the case of the litters 
of certain animals) ; and a single tiny seed would not have the 
power to multiply its own kind innumerably. Obviously, from 
a single seed, according to the nature of each, crops can propa- 
gate crops, woods woods, herds herds, and peoples peoples 
throughout the ages, so that there is not a single leaf or hair 
in all that rhythmic succession, the reason for which did not 
exist in the first single seed. Again, think of the rhythmic and 
pleasantly beautiful sounds transmitted by the air when the 
nightingale sings. And yet the soul of that bird could not pro- 
duce them so freely when it pleased, unless it had them incor- 
poreally impressed upon it by the life force. This can be ob- 



OF TRUE RELIGION 267 

served in other living creatures which lack reason but do not 
lack sense. There is none of them which does not in the sound 
of its voice or in some other movement or activity of its members 
show something rhythmical and in its own fashion orderly, not 
indeed by reason of any knowledge, but by reason of the deep 
ties of nature which are arranged by the unchangeable law of 
numbers. 

xliii, 80. Let us return to ourselves and pass over the 
things we have in common with trees and beasts. The swallow 
builds its nest in one way, and every kind of bird has its own 
way of building its nest. What is it in us that enables us to judge 
all these, the plan they are following and how far they accom- 
plish it; to judge ourselves, too, in our buildings and other 
activities of the body, as if we were lords of all such things? 
What gives us these innumerable thoughts? What is it within us 
that knows that these corporeal things are relatively great or 
small, that every body can be halved, whatever size it may have, 
and even then may be subdivided into innumerable parts? If 
a grain of millet bears the same relation to one of its parts as 
our body bears to the world, it is as great in respect of that part 
as the world is in respect of us. And the world is full of designs 
and is beautiful not because of its size but because of the reason 
that is in it. It seems great not because of its quantity but by 
comparison with our smallness and the smallness of the living 
things it contains. These again can be infinitely divided, and 
are small not in themselves but by comparison with other things 
and above all with the universe itself. Nor is it different with 
respect to lengths of time. As in the case of space, every length 
of time can be halved. However brief it may be it has a begin- 
ning, a duration and an end. So it must have a middle point, 
being divided at the point where it draws nearer to the end. 
The short syllable is short by comparison with a long syllable, 
and the hour is short in winter when compared with a summer 
hour. So the space of a single hour is short by comparison with 
a day. So a day is short by comparison with a month, a month 
with a year, a year with a lustrum, a lustrum with the larger 
circles of time and they with universal time. The whole rhythmic 
succession and gradation in space and time is judged to be 
beautiful not by its size or length but by its ordered fitness. 

81. The mode of order lives in perpetual truth. It has no bulk 
or temporal process. By its potency it is greater than all space, 
and by its eternity it remains changeless above the flux of time. 
And yet without it, vast bulk can have no unity, and length of 



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time cannot be kept in the straight path. There could be neither 
matter nor motion. It is the principle of unity, having neither 
size nor change whether finite or infinite. It has not one quality 
here and another there, or one now and another afterwards; for 
it is supremely the unique Father of Truth and Father of Wis- 
dom, which is like the Father in all respects. Hence it is called his 
similitude and image because it comes from him. It is rightly 
called also the Son, and from him other things proceed. But 
before him is the universal form perfectly identical with the 
unity from which it springs, so that all other things, so far as 
they have being and resemble unity, are made according to 
that form. 

xliv, 82. Some things are made conformable to that first 
form such as rational and intellectual creatures, among whom 
man is rightly said to be made in the image and likeness of God. 
Not otherwise could he behold unchangeable truth with his 
mind. But other things are made through the first form but are 
not in its image. If the rational creature serve its creator by 
whom, through whom, and to whom it was made, all other 
things will serve it. Life, which is next in the scale below soul, 
will lend aid in commanding the body. And the soul will even 
rule over the body, that last and lowest being, for the body will 
yield to its will in all things and will give no trouble; because 
the soul will not seek its happiness from the body or by it, but 
will receive happiness by itself from God. So the body too will 
be reformed and sanctified, and the soul will rule it without loss 
or corruption and without any burden of difficulty. “In the 
resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but 
will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). “Meats for the 
belly and the belly for meats, but God will destroy both it and 
them” (I Cor. 6:13). “The kingdom of God is not eating and 
drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy” (Rom. 14:17). 

xlv, 83. Wherefore even in bodily pleasure we find some- 
thing to teach us to despise it, not because the body is evil by 
nature, but because it is shameful for a being who can cleave to 
higher things and enjoy them to be the sport of love of the 
lowest good. When a charioteer loses control and pays the 
penalty for his rashness he accuses his equipment. But let him 
implore aid; let him take command of the situation; let him 
control his steeds which are making a spectacle of his downfall 
and bid fair to bring about his death if no help supervenes. Let 
him get back into his place in the chariot, and take control of 
the reins, and tame his horses and rule them more cautiously. 



OF TRUE RELIGION 269 

Then he will realize how well the chariot had been made with 
all its equipment, which by his ruinous handling brought danger 
upon himself and left the course of becoming moderation. So 
in paradise the greediness of the soul which badly used its body 
produced weakness. For it snatched at forbidden food against 
the prescription of the physician, in following which salvation 
is to be found. 

84. If in the very weakness of visible flesh, where no happy 
life can be, some pointer towards happiness can be found, be- 
cause the form of it reaches from the top to the bottom of the 
scale of existence, much more can a pointer be found in the 
search for rank and excellence, even in the pride and vain pomp 
of this world. For what else does a man seek in this case but to be 
if possible the sole lord of all things, perversely imitating Al- 
mighty God? If he submissively imitated him by living accord- 
ing to his commandments, God would put all other things under 
him, and he would not reach such deformity as to fear a little 
animal even while he wants to rule over men. Pride in a manner 
seeks unity and omnipotence, but in the realm of temporal 
things, where all things are transient like a shadow. 

85. We want to be unconquered and rightly so, for the nature 
of our mind is unconquerable though only as we are subject to 
God in whose image we are made. But his commandments had 
to be observed, and if they were obeyed no one would overcome 
us. But now while the woman to whose words we basely con- 
sented is subject to the pains of childbirth, we labour on the 
ground and are disgracefully overcome by anything that can 
trouble or disturb us. We do not want to be overcome by men, 
but we cannot overcome anger. What more execrable baseness 
can there be? We admit that we are men, and even a vicious 
man is better than vice. How much more honourable it would 
be to be conquered by a man than by a vice? Who would 
doubt that envy is a monstrous vice which must necessarily 
torture and subdue anyone who is unwilling to be conquered 
in temporal things. It is better that a man should overcome us 
than that we should be overcome by envy or any other vice. 

xlvi, 86. He who has overcome his vices cannot be over- 
come by man either. Only he is overcome who has what he 
loves snatched from him by his adversary. He who loves only 
what cannot be snatched from him is indubitably unconquer- 
able, and is tortured by no envy. He loves what many have 
come to know and to love, thereby deserving to be congratulated. 
For he loves God with all his heart and with all his soul and with 



270 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

all his mind, and his neighbour as himself. God does not grudge 
his becoming as he is himself. Rather he even helps him as much 
as possible. He cannot lose his neighbour whom he loves as 
himself, for he does not love even in himself the things that 
appear to the eyes or to any other bodily sense. So he has inward 
fellowship with him whom he loves as himself. 

87. The rule of love is that one should wish his friend to have 
all the good things he wants to have himself, and should not 
wish the evils to befall his friend which he wishes to avoid himself. 
He shows this benevolence towards all men. No evil must be 
done to any. Love of one’s neighbour worketh no evil (Rom. 
13:10). Let us then love even our enemies as we are com- 
manded, if we wish to be truly unconquered. For no man is 
unconquerable in himself, but by the unchangeable law which 
makes free those who serve it and them only. What they love 
cannot be taken from them, and by that fact alone they are 
rendered unconquerable and perfect men. If a man were to 
love another not as himself but as a beast of burden, or as the 
baths, or as a gaudy or garrulous bird, that is for some temporal 
pleasure or advantage he hoped to derive, he must serve not a 
man but, what is much worse, a foul and detestable vice, in 
that he does not love the man as a man ought to be loved. When 
that vice is dominant it leads to the lowest form of life or rather 
to death. 

88. Man is not to be loved by man even as brothers after the 
flesh are loved, or sons, or wives, or kinsfolk, or relatives, or 
fellow citizens. For such love is temporal. We should have no 
such connections as are contingent upon birth and death, if 
our nature had remained in obedience to the commandments of 
God and in the likeness of his image. It would not have been 
relegated to its present corrupt state. Accordingly, the Truth 
himself calls us back to our original and perfect state, bids us 
resist carnal custom, and teaches that no one is fit for the king- 
dom of God unless he hates these carnal relationships. Let no 
one think that is inhuman. It is more inhuman to love a man 
because he is your son and not because he is a man, that is, not 
to love that in him which belongs to God, but to love that which 
belongs to yourself. What marvel if he who loves his private 
advantage and not the commonweal does not obtain a king- 
dom? Someone will say he should love both, but God says he 
must love one. Most truly says the Truth: “No man can serve 
two masters” (Matt. 6:24). No one can perfectly love that to 
which we are called unless he hate that from which we are called. 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


271 

We are called to perfect human nature as God made it before 
we sinned. We are recalled from love of what we have deserved 
by sinning. Therefore we must hate that from which we choose 
to be set free. 

89. If we are ablaze with love for eternity we shall hate tem- 
poral relationships. Let a man love his neighbour as himself. 
No one is his own father or son or kinsman or anything of the 
kind, but is simply a man. Whoever loves another as himself 
ought to love that in him which is his real self. Our real selves 
are not bodies. So we are not to desire and set great store by a 
man’s body. Here, too, the precept is valid: Thou shalt not 
covet they neighbour’s property. Whoever, then, loves in his 
neighbour anything but his real self does not love him as him- 
self. Human nature is to be loved whether it be perfect or in 
process of becoming perfect, but without any condition of 
carnal relationship. All are related who have one God for their 
Father and who love him and do his will. And all are fathers and 
sons to one another, fathers when they take thought for others, 
sons when they obey, but above all they are brothers because 
one Father by his Testament calls them to one inheritance. 

xlvii, 90. Why should not he be unconquered who in loving 
man loves nothing but the man, the creature of God, made 
according to his image? And how can he fail to discover the 
perfect nature he loves, since God is perfect? For example, if 
anyone loves a good singer, not this or that particular one but 
any good singer, being himself a perfect singer, he wants all to 
be such, while at the same time preserving his own power to do 
what he loves, for he too sings well. But if he is envious of any 
good singer, he does not love good singing for itself but for the 
praise or some other advantage he wishes to obtain by singing 
well. But that advantage can be diminished or indeed taken 
away if another sings well. He who is envious of a good singer 
does not love him for his singing; and on the other hand, he who 
lacks talent does not sing well. This could be much more fitly 
said of one who lives rightly, because he can envy no one. For 
the reward of right living is the same for all, and it is not made 
less when many obtain it. A time may come when a good singer 
cannot sing properly, and requires another’s voice to show what 
he loves. He might be at a banquet where it was wrong for him 
to sing, but where he might properly hear another sing. But it 
is never improper to live aright. Whoever does this and loves it, 
not only does not envy those who imitate him, but also treats 
them with the greatest possible kindness and good will. But he 



272 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

does not stand in any need of them. What he loves in them he 
himself completely and perfectly possesses. So when a man loves 
his neighbour as himself, he is not envious of him any more than 
he is envious of himself. He gives him such help as he can as if 
he were helping himself. But he does not need him any more 
than he needs himself. He needs God alone, by cleaving to 
whom he is happy. No one can take God from him. He, then, 
is most truly and certainly an unconquered man who cleaves to 
God, not indeed that he may merit any extra good thing from 
him, but because for him to cleave to God is itself good. 

91. Such a man, so long as he is in this life, uses his friend to 
repay favours received, his enemy to cultivate patience, anyone 
at all in order to exercise beneficence, and all men as objects 
of benevolence. Though he does not love temporal things, he 
uses them rightly himself, and takes thought for men according 
to the lot of each, if he cannot treat them all alike. So if he is 
more ready to speak to one of his friends than to anyone else, it 
is not because he loves him more, but because he has greater 
confidence in addressing him, and opportunity opens the door. 
He treats those who are devoted to temporal concerns all the 
better because he is himself less bound to temporal things. If he 
cannot help all whom he loves equally without preferring to 
benefit those who are more closely related to him, he is unjust. 
Relationship of mind is a greater thing than relationships due 
to the place or time where or when we were born in the flesh. 
But the relationship which binds all together is the most im- 
portant of all. He is not made sorrowful by the death of anyone, 
for he who loves God with all his mind knows that nothing can 
perish for him unless it perish also in the sight of God. But God 
is Lord of the living and the dead. He is not made unhappy by 
the unhappiness of another, any more than he is made just by 
the justice of another. As no one can take from him God and 
justice, so no one can take from him his happiness. If at any 
time he is touched with feeling for another’s danger or error or 
grief, he lets it go so far as to help or correct or console that 
other, but not to subvert himself. 

92. In all laborious duties he cherishes the certain expecta- 
tion of rest to come, and so is not crushed. What can harm him 
who can make a good use even of an enemy? He does not fear 
enmities because he is guarded and protected by God who has 
given both the command and the ability to love enemies. In 
tribulations he feels it is a small thing not to be saddened. Rather 
he even rejoices, knowing that “tribulation worketh patience, 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


273 

and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope 
maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in 
our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us” (Rom. 
5:3-5). Who can hurt such a man? Who can subdue him? In 
prosperity he makes moral progress, and in adversity learns to 
know the progress he has made. When he has abundance of 
mutable goods he does not put his trust in them; and when they 
are withdrawn he gets to know whether or not they had taken 
him captive. Usually when we have them we imagine that we 
do not love them, but when they begin to leave us we discover 
what manner of men we are. We have a thing without loving it 
when we can let it go without grieving. He who by excelling 
obtains what he will grieve to lose, seems to be victorious but is 
in reality vanquished; and he who by giving way obtains what 
he cannot unwillingly lose is really victorious though he seem 
to be vanquished. 

xlviii, 93. He who delights in liberty seeks to be free from 
the love of mutable things. He who delights to rule should sub- 
missively cleave to God, the sole ruler of all things, loving God 
more than himself. This is perfect justice, to love the better 
things more and the lesser things less. He should love a wise and 
perfect soul because it has the quality of justice, and a foolish 
soul because it has the power to become wise and perfect. He 
ought not to love even himself if he is foolish; for he who loves 
himself when he is foolish will make no progress towards wis- 
dom. No one will become what he desires to be unless he hates 
himself as he is. But until he reaches wisdom and perfection he 
bears with the folly of his neighbour as he would bear with his 
own, supposing he were foolish and at the same time a lover of 
wisdom. Wherefore, if even pride itself is the shadow of true 
liberty and true royalty, by it also divine providence reminds us 
what we are worth when we are stained with vice, and to what 
we must return when we have been corrected. 

xlix, 94. All curiosity with regard to spectacles aims at 
nothing else than the joy of knowing things. What, then, is more 
wonderful and beautiful than truth? Every spectator admits 
that he wants to reach truth. Hence he takes great care not to 
be deceived, and vaunts himself if he sho ws more acuteness and 
vivacity than others in watching and learning and judging. 
Men carefully and closely watch a juggler who professes nothing 
but deceit. If his tricks elude discovery they are delighted with 
the cleverness of the man who hoodwinks them. If he did not 
know how to mislead those who were looking on, or was believed 

A.E.W. 18 



274 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

not to know, no one would applaud. But any of the people who 
catches him out thinks himself worthy of greater praise than the 
juggler for no other reason than that he could not be deceived 
or taken in. If many see through the trick the juggler is not 
praised, but the rest who cannot see it are laughed at. So the 
palm is always awarded to knowledge, to the comprehension 
of truth. But no one can reach truth who looks for it outside the 
mind. 

95. When we are asked which is better, truth or falsehood, we 
answer with one voice that truth is better. And yet we are so 
sunk in trifles and baseness that we are much more ready to 
cling to jests and games in which deception, not truth, delights 
us, than to the precepts of the truth itself. So by our own judg- 
ment and out of our own mouth we are sentenced because we 
approve one thing by reason and pursue another in our vanity. 
So long as a thing is a matter of fun and games, we know that 
it arouses laughter when it counterfeits truth. But when we love 
such things we fall away from truth, and cannot discover what 
they imitate, and so we pant for them as if they were the prime 
objects of beauty. Getting further away from these primal ob- 
jects we embrace our phantasms. When we return to seek truth 
phantasms meet us in the way and will not allow us to pass on, 
attacking us like brigands, not indeed with violence but with 
dangerous pitfalls, because we do not know how widely applic- 
able is the saying: “Keep yourselves from images 55 (I John 5:21). 

96. So some go vaguely wandering in thought through in- 
numerable worlds. Others have thought that God cannot exist 
except as corporeal fire. Others have thought of God as the 
brightness of an immense light radiating through infinite space 
in all directions, except that on one side it is cloven as by a black 
wedge. They are of opinion that there are two realms, one over 
against the other, and they set up two opposing principles as 
fabulous as their phantasms. If I were to urge them to declare 
on oath whether they know that these things are true, probably 
they would not dare to go so far; but they might reply: Tou 
show us what truth is. If I were to reply simply that they should 
look for the light that enables them to be certain that believing 
is one thing and knowing another, they themselves would 
swear that that light cannot be seen with the eyes, nor thought 
of as filling any space however vast, and yet that it is every- 
where present to those who seek; and that nothing can be found 
more certain or more serene. 

97. All that I have said about the light of the mind is made 



OF TRUE RELIGION 275 

clear by that same light. By it I know that what I have said is 
true, and that I know that I know it. I know that that light has 
extension neither in space nor in time. I know that I cannot 
know unless I am alive, and I know more certainly that by 
knowing I attain a richer life. Eternal life surpasses temporal 
life in vivacity, and only by knowing do I get a glimpse of what 
eternity is. By looking at eternity with the mind’s eye I remove 
from it all changeableness, and in eternity I see no temporal 
duration, for periods of time are constituted by the movements, 
past or future, of things. In eternity there is neither past nor 
future. What is past has ceased to be, and what is future has not 
yet begun to be. Eternity is ever the same. It never “was” in the 
sense that it is not now, and it never “will be” in the sense that 
it is not yet. Wherefore, eternity alone could have said to the 
human mind “I am what I am.” And of eternity alone could it 
be truly said: “He who is hath sent me” (Ex. 3:14). 

1 , 98. If we cannot yet cleave to eternity, at least let us drive 
away our phantasms, and cast out of our mental vision trifling 
and deceptive games. Let us use the steps which divine provi- 
dence has deigned to make for us. When we delighted over much 
in silly figments, and grew vain in our thoughts, and turned our 
whole life into vain dreams, the ineffable mercy of God did not 
disdain to use rational angelic creatures to teach us by means of 
sounds and letters, by fire and smoke and cloudy pillar, as by 
visible words. So with parables and similitudes in a fashion he 
played with us when we were children, and sought to heal our 
inward eyes by smearing them with clay. 

99. Let us then make clear to ourselves what faith we ought 
to repose in history and what in intelligence; what we ought to 
commit to memory, not knowing that it is true but believing 
all the same; where is the truth that neither comes nor passes 
away but abides ever the same; what is the mode of interpreting 
allegory, believed to have been spoken in wisdom through the 
Holy Spirit; whether it is enough to allegorize things that have 
been seen in ancient days and in more recent times, or is it to be 
applied to the affections and nature of the soul, and to un- 
changeable eternity. Do some stories signify visible deeds, 
others movements of minds, and others the law of eternity; or 
are some found in which all these are to be discovered? What 
is stable faith, historical and temporal or spiritual and eternal, 
according to which all interpretation of authoritative writings 
is to be directed? What advantage is to be derived from believing 
temporal things for knowing and possessing eternal things, 



276 Augustine: earlier writings 

which is the end of all good actions? What is the difference be- 
tween allegorizing history and allegorizing facts or speeches or 
sacraments? How is the diction of the divine Scriptures to be 
received according to the idiom of various languages? Every 
language has its own special modes of expression which seem 
absurd when translated into another language. What is the 
advantage of such a lowly form of speech? For in the sacred 
books we find mention made of the anger of God, his sadness, 
his awaking from sleep, his remembering and forgetting, and 
other things which can happen to good men. Not only so, there 
is also mention of his repentance, his zeal, his feasting and other 
such things. Are God’s eyes and hands and feet, and other mem- 
bers named in Scripture, to be held to refer to something like 
the visible form of the human body? Or do they signify intel- 
ligible and spiritual powers, as do such words in Scripture as 
helmet, shield, sword, girdle and the like? Above all we must 
ask how it profits the human race that the divine providence has 
spoken to us by human rational and corporeal creatures who 
have been the servants of God. When we have come to know 
that one truth, all puerile impudence is driven from our minds 
and holy religion comes into its own. 

li, 100. Putting aside, therefore, all theatrical and poetic 
trifling, let us by the diligent study of the divine Scriptures, find 
food and drink for our minds; for they are weary and parched 
with the hunger and thirst of vain curiosity, and desire in vain 
to be refreshed and satisfied with silly phantasms, as unreal as 
painted banquets. Let us be wholesomely educated by this truly 
liberal and noble game. If wonderful and beautiful spectacles 
afford us delight, let us desire to see wisdom “which teaches from 
one end to the other with might, and pleasantly disposes of all 
things.” What is more wonderful than incorporeal might making 
and ruling the corporeal world? What more beautiful than its 
ordering and adorning the material world? 

lii, 101. All admit that these things are perceived by the 
body, and that the mind is better than the body. Will not the 
mind by itself have some object that it can perceive which must 
be far more excellent and far nobler? We are put in mind by the 
things of which we are judges to look to that standard by which 
we judge. We turn from artistic works to the law of the arts, and 
we shall behold with the mind the form by comparison with 
which all the things are tarnished which its very goodness has 
made beautiful. “For the invisible things of God from the 
creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


277 

things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” 
(Rom. i :2o). This is the return from temporal to eternal things, 
and the transformation of the old man into the new. What can 
fail to urge man to strive for virtue, when his very vices urge 
him? Curiosity seeks nothing but knowledge, which cannot be 
certain knowledge unless it be knowledge of eternal things 
which remain ever the same. Pride seeks nothing but power, 
which has reference to facility in acting. But power is attained 
only by the perfect soul which is submissive to God and which 
with great love turns towards his kingdom. Bodily pleasure 
seeks nothing but rest, and there is no rest save where there is 
no poverty and no corruption. We must beware of the creatures 
of the lower regions, i.e., of severer penalties after this life, 
where there can be no reminder of truth because there is no 
reasoning. And there is no reasoning because there is no shining 
of “the light that lighteth every man coming into this world” 
(John 1 : 9). Wherefore, let us hasten and walk while it is day lest 
darkness come upon us. Let us hasten to be set free from the 
second death, where no one is who is mindful of God, and where 
no one will make confession to God. 

liii, 102. But unhappy men make light of what they have 
come to know, and rejoice in novelties. They take greater 
pleasure in learning than in knowing, though knowledge is the 
end of learning. They hold facility in acting to be a poor thing 
and prefer the battle to the victory, though victory is the end of 
battle. Those who care little for bodily health prefer to eat too 
much rather than to eat just enough for satiety. They prefer to 
enjoy sexual acts rather than to suffer no such agitation. Some 
even prefer to sleep rather than not to be drowsy. And yet the 
end of all these desires is not to be hungry or thirsty, not to seek 
intercourse with a woman, not to be weary. 

103. Those who desire these true ends first put off curiosity; 
for they know that certain knowledge which is within, and they 
enjoy it as far as they can in this life. Then they put off obstinacy 
and receive facility in acting, knowing that it is a greater and 
easier victory not to resist the animosity of any one. And they 
remain of this opinion so far as they can in this life. Lastly, they 
seek bodily tranquillity by abstaining from things that are 
not necessary for living this life. So they taste how sweet is the 
Lord. They have no doubt as to what will be after this life, and 
their perfection is nourished by faith, hope and charity. After 
this life, knowledge will be made perfect. For now we know in 
part, but when that which is perfect is come, knowledge will not 



278 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

be in part. There will be perfect peace, for there will be no other 
law in my members fighting against the law of my mind, but 
the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord will set us free 
from the body of this death. To a great extent we agree with the 
adversary while we are with him in the way. The body will be 
entirely whole without lack or weariness; for this corruptible 
will put on incorruption in its due time and order, when the 
resurrection of the flesh comes. There is no marvel if this is 
given to those who, in knowing, love truth alone, and, in action, 
love peace alone, and, in the body, love wholeness and nothing 
besides. What they most love in this life will be made perfect 
for them after this life. 

liv, 104. To those who make a bad use of so good a thing 
as the mind, desiring visible things outside the mind which 
ought to remind them to behold and love intelligible things, 
to them will be given outer darkness. The beginning of this 
darkness is fleshly knowledge and the weakness of the bodily 
senses. Those who delight in strife will be aliens from peace and 
involved in frightful difficulties. The beginning of the greatest 
difficulty is war and contention. And this I suppose is signified 
by the fact that their hands and feet are bound, i.e., all facility 
of working is taken from them. Those who want to hunger and 
thirst, to burn with lust and be weary, so that they may have 
pleasure in eating and drinking, in lying with a woman, and 
in sleeping, love indigence which is the beginning of the greatest 
woes. What they love will be made perfect for them, for they 
will be where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

105. There are many who love all these vices together. Their 
whole life is a round of seeing spectacles, striving, eating, drink- 
ing, sleeping, having sexual intercourse. They have nothing in 
their thoughts but to embrace the phantasms which arise out of a 
life like that, and from their deceptions to set up rules of super- 
stition or impiety to deceive themselves. To these they adhere 
even when they try to abstain from the enticements of the flesh. 
They do not make a good use of the talent committed to them, 
i.e., keenness of mind in which all seem to excel who are called 
learned, polished or elegant, but keep it bound up in a napkin 
or buried in the earth, i.e., wrapt up in voluptuous and super- 
fluous things, and crushed beneath earthly cupidities. Therefore 
their hands and feet will be bound, and they will be sent into 
outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of 
teeth. Not because they loved these woes — for who could love 
them? — but because the things they loved were the beginnings 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


279 

of these woes, and necessarily bring those who love them to this 
evil plight. Those, who love the journey rather than the return 
home or the journey’s end, are to be sent into distant parts. 
They are flesh and spirit continually on the move and never 
reaching home. 

106. But he who makes a good use even of his five bodily 
senses, to believe and praise the works of God, to cultivate love 
of God, to seek tranquillity of thought and action, and to know 
God, he enters into the joy of his Lord. The talent is taken from 
him who made a bad use of it, and is given to him who made a 
good use of his five talents. Not indeed that keenness of intellect 
can be transferred from one to another. What is meant is that 
clever people who neglect their minds and are impious can lose 
their gift, and that diligent and pious people who are of a slower 
understanding can nevertheless reach understanding. The talent 
was not given to him who had received two talents, for he who 
lives aright both in thought and action already has all he needs. 
It was given to him who had received five. For he has not yet 
sufficient mental strength to contemplate eternal things who 
puts his trust in visible and temporal things. But he can acquire 
it who praises God, the maker of all sensible things; who trusts 
God by faith, waits on God in hope, and seeks him in love. 

lv, 107. This being so, my dearly beloved friends and 
brethren, I exhort you as I exhort myself to run with all possible 
speed after that to which God calls us by his wisdom. Let us not 
love the world since all that is in the world is lust of the flesh, 
lust of the eye, and the pride of the world. Do not let us love to 
corrupt or be corrupted by fleshly pleasure, lest we come to a 
yet more miserable corruption of grief and torment. Do not let 
us love strife, lest we be given over to the power of the angels 
who rejoice in strife, to be humbled, bound and beaten. Let us 
not love spectacles, lest we wander from the truth and love 
shadows and are cast into darkness. 

108. Let not our religion consist in phantasms of our own 
imagining. Any kind of truth is better than any fiction we may 
choose to produce. And yet we must not worship the soul, 
though the soul remains true even when we entertain false 
imaginations about it. Stubble, which is nevertheless real, is 
better than light fabricated at will by the vain thought of him 
who imagines it; and yet it would be madness to hold stubble, 
which we can perceive and touch, to be worthy of our worship. 
Let not; our religion be the worship of human works. The work- 
men are better than their works, yet we must not worship them. 



28 o 


AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


Let not our religion be the worship of beasts. The worst men 
are better than beasts, but we must not worship them. Let not 
our religion be the worship of dead men. If they lived pious 
lives, it must not be supposed that they seek divine honours. 
They want us to worship him, in whose light they rejoice to 
have us as sharers in their merit. They are to be honoured by 
imitation and not adored with religious rites. If they lived evil 
lives, wherever they now are, they are not to be worshipped. 
Let not our religion be the worship of demons, for all super- 
stition is the punishment and the deadly disgrace of men, but it 
is the glory and triumph of demons. 

109. Let not our religion be the worship of lands and waters. 
Air is purer and clearer than these, though it can also be foggy; 
we must not worship air. Let not our religion be the worship of 
the purer and more serene upper air, for it is dark when there is 
no light. Purer than air is the brightness of fire, which, however, 
we ought not to worship, since we can kindle and extinguish it 
at will. Let not our religion be the worship of ethereal and 
celestial bodies, for although they are rightly preferred to all 
other bodies, still any kind of life is better than they. If they are 
animated by a soul, any soul in itself is better than any ani- 
mated body, and yet no one has ever thought that a vicious soul 
was to be worshipped. Let not our religion be the worship of the 
life that trees live, for it is not sentient life. It is of the kind that 
goes on in the rhythm of our bodies, the sort of life that our 
bones and hair have, and our hair can be cut without our feeling 
anything. Sentient life is better than this, and yet we must not 
worship such life as beasts have. 

1 10. Let not our religion be the worship of the perfectly wise 
rational soul, as it is found in angels who steadfastly carry on 
their ministry in the universe or in its parts, or in the best of men 
who await the reformation of their lower selves. All rational life 
obeys the voice of unchangeable truth speaking silently within 
the soul. If it does not so obey it is vicious. Rational life there- 
fore does not owe its excellence to itself, but to the truth which 
it willingly obeys. The lowest man must worship the same God 
as is worshipped by the highest angel. In fact it is by refusing to 
worship him that human nature has been brought low. The 
source of wisdom and of truth is the same for angel and man, 
namely the one unchangeable Wisdom and Truth. The very 
Virtue and changeless Wisdom of God, consubstantial and co- 
eternal with the Father, for our salvation deigned, in the tem- 
poral dispensation, to take upon himself our nature in order to 



OF TRUE RELIGION 


28 l 


teach us that man must worship what every rational intellectual 
creature must also worship. Let us believe that the highest angels 
and most excellent ministers of God want us to join them in the 
worship of the one God, in contemplation of whom they find 
their happiness. Even we are not made happy by seeing an 
angel but by seeing the truth, by which we love the angels too 
and rejoice with them. We do not grudge that they should have 
readier access to the truth and enjoy it without obstacle. 
Rather we love them because we are bidden by our common 
Lord to hope for the same condition hereafter. So we honour 
them with love, but not with divine worship. We do not build 
temples for them. They do not wish to be honoured by us in 
that way, because they know that when we are good men we 
are ourselves the temples of the most high God. Accordingly it 
is written, with complete propriety that an angel once forbade 
a man to worship him, bidding him worship the one God 
under whom both angel and man were fellow-servants (Rev. 
19:10). 

hi. Those who invite us to serve and worship themselves as 
gods are like proud men who, if they could, would like to be 
worshipped in that way. It is less perilous to endure such men 
than to worship demons. All lordship of men over men is 
brought to an end by the death of the lord or of the servant. 
Servitude under the pride of the evil angels is more to be feared 
on account of the time that is to follow death. Anyone can easily 
see that under a human lord we are allowed to have our 
thoughts free. We fear the lordship of demons because it is 
exercised over the mind in which is found our only means of 
beholding and grasping the truth. Wherefore, though w,e be en- 
chained and subjected to all the powers given to men to rule 
the state, provided we “render unto Caesar the things that are 
Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21), 
there is no need to fear lest anyone should exact such service 
after we are dead. The servitude of the soul is one thing, the 
servitude of the body quite another. Just men who have all 
their joy in God alone congratulate those who praise him for 
their good deeds. But when they are praised themselves, where 
possible they correct the erring. Where that is not possible, they 
are so far from being grateful for the error that they are eager 
to have it corrected. The good angels and all the holy ministers 
of God are like these, only more holy and pure. We need not 
fear lest we offend any of them if we avoid superstition, and with 
their help tend towards God alone, and bind [ religare ] our souls 



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AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


to him alone without superstition. Hence, it is believed, religion 
derives its name. 

1 12. One God alone I worship, the sole principle of all things, 
and his Wisdom who makes every wise soul wise, and his Gift 
[mums] whereby all the blessed are blessed. I am certainly sure 
that every angel that loves this God loves me too. Whoever 
abides in him and can hear human prayers, hears me in him. 
Whoever has God as his chief good, helps me in him, and can- 
not grudge my sharing in him. Let those who adore or flatter 
the parts of the world tell me this. What good friend will the man 
lack who worships the one God whom all the good love, in 
knowing whom they rejoice, and by having recourse to whom 
as their first principle they derive their goodness? Every angel 
that loves his own aberrations and will not be subject to the 
truth, but desires to find joy in his own advantage, has fallen 
away from the common good of all and from true beatitude. To 
such all evil men are given to be subdued and oppressed. But no 
good man is given over into his power except to be tried and 
proved. None can doubt that such an angel is not to be wor- 
shipped, for our misery is his joy, and our return to God is his 
loss. 

1 13. Let our religion bind us to the one omnipotent God, 
because no creature comes between our minds and him whom 
we know to be the Father and the Truth, i.e., the inward light 
whereby we know him. In him and with him we venerate the 
Truth, who is in all respects like him, and who is the form of all 
things that have been made by the One, and that endeavour 
after unity. To spiritual minds it is clear that all things were 
made by this form which alone achieves what all things seek 
after. But all things would not have been made by the Father 
through the Son, nor would they be preserved within their 
bounds in safety, unless God were supremely good. He grudges 
nothing to any, for he has given to all the possibility to be good, 
and has given to all the power to abide in the good as far as they 
would or could. Wherefore it befits us to keep and to worship 
the Gift \donum\ of God, equally unchangeable with the Father 
and the Son, in a Trinity of one substance. We worship one God 
from whom, through whom and in whom we have our being, 
from whom we fell away, being made unlike him, by whom we 
have not been allowed to perish, the principle to which we have 
recourse, the form we imitate, the grace whereby we are recon- 
ciled. We worship one God by whom we were made, and his 
likeness by whom we are formed for unity, and his peace whereby 



OF TRUE RELIGION 283 

we cleave to unity; God who spoke and it was done; and the 
Word by whom all was made that has substance and nature; 
and the Gift of his benignity by whom nothing that he made 
through the Word should perish, but should please and be re- 
conciled to its Creator; one God by whose creative work we 
live, by whom we are remade so that we may live in wisdom, 
and by loving and enjoying whom we live in blessedness; one 
God from whom, through whom, and in whom are all things. 
To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 



The Usefulness of Belief 


St. Augustine's Review of the u De Utilitate Credendi” 

Retractations , /, xiv 

i. After I had become a presbyter at Hippo-regius I wrote a 
book entitled On the Utility of Believing , addressed to a friend of 
mine who I knew had been deceived by the Manichees, and 
was still a victim of that error, and mocked the discipline of the 
Catholic Faith because it bade men believe, and did not teach 
them the truth by means of indubitable reason. In that book 
(iii, 9) I said, “In these precepts and commandments of the 
Law which Christians may not now lawfully obey, such as the 
Sabbath, circumcision, sacrifice and the like, there are con- 
tained such mysteries that every pious man may understand 
that there is nothing more pernicious than to take them literally, 
and nothing more wholesome than to let the truth be revealed 
by the spirit. Hence, the letter killeth but the spirit quickeneth.” I 
have expounded these words of the apostle Paul differently, and, 
as it seems to me or rather as it is apparent from the facts, much 
more suitably in my book entitled, On the Spirit and the Letter . 
But the meaning I have given to them here need not be rejected. 

2. Again I said (xi, 25), “In religion two kinds of people are 
praiseworthy — those who have already found the truth, whom 
we must judge to be entirely blessed; and those who seek it 
rightly and earnestly. Of these the former are already in posses- 
sion. The latter are on the way that leads most certainly to 
possession. 55 These words of mine are not erroneous if it be 
understood that those who have found the truth and whom I 
have described as being in possession are not entirely blessed in 
this life but in the life for which we hope and towards which we 
tend by the way of faith. Those are to be judged to have 
attained the final goal who have arrived where we desire to 
arrive with all our believing and seeking, that is, with our hold- 

284 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 285 

ing on the way of faith. But I do not think it is true that they are 
or ever have been entirely blessed in this life, not because in this 
life no truth at all can be discovered that can be perceived by the 
mind and not simply believed by faith, but because, however 
much of truth is discovered, it is not sufficient to make men 
entirely blessed. I would not say that the apostle’s statement, 
“Now we see through a glass darkly. . . . Now I know in part,” is 
not perceived by the mind. Clearly it is, but it does not make 
men entirely blessed. Perfect blessedness is described in these 
words. “But then face to face. . . . Then I shall know even as I 
am known.” Those who have discovered this must be said to 
have obtained possession of beatitude, to which the way of 
faith we are following conducts us, and which we desire to 
reach by believing. But who the blessed are who are in posses- 
sion of the blessedness to which th e way of faith leads, is a great 
problem. Unquestionably the holy angels have it. But it may 
rightly be questioned whether holy men who have died may be 
said to have possession of it. They have indeed put off the cor- 
ruptible body which burdens the soul, but they too still await 
the redemption of their bodies, and their flesh rests in hope, but 
does not yet shine with the incorruption that will one day be 
theirs. But whether for this reason they have less power to con- 
template the truth with the mind’s eye, or “face to face,” as it is 
said, this is not the place to inquire or discuss. In regard to what 
I said a little later in the same chapter — “To know important, 
honourable and even divine things is most blessed” — this must 
also be held to refer to future beatitude. For in this life know- 
ledge, however great, does not mean perfect blessedness, for that 
which is still unknown is incomparably greater. 

3. Again, in the same chapter, I said, “There is a difference 
between true knowledge, i.e., rational knowledge, and belief in 
what has been usefully handed down to posterity either by 
report or in writing. . . . Our knowledge we owe to reason, our 
beliefs to authority.” In popular speech that would seem to 
mean that we shrink from saying that we know what we believe 
on the testimony of suitable witnesses. It should not be taken 
in this sense. When we speak strictly we mean, by knowing , cer- 
tain, rational comprehension. But when we are using words as 
they are used in ordinary parlance, as divine Scripture uses 
them, we do not hesitate to say that we know what we perceive 
with the bodily senses, or believe on the testimony of witnesses 
worthy of trust; and at the same time we understand the differ- 
ence between the two uses of the word knowing . 



286 


Augustine: earlier writings 


4. Again the words in Chapter xii, “No one doubts that men 
universally are either foolish or wise,” may seem to contradict 
what is written in De Liber 0 Ar bitrio, Book III, “As if human 
nature had no condition intermediate between folly and wis- 
dom.” I was then inquiring whether the first man was created 
wise or foolish or neither. We could not say that he was foolish 
when he was created without a fault, for folly is a great fault; 
and it was not quite clear how we could call him wise seeing he 
could be seduced. And so I offered as a brief suggestion a condi- 
tion intermediate between folly and wisdom. I was also thinking 
of little children. We may admit that they bring original sin 
with them, but we cannot properly call them either wise or 
foolish, seeing they do not as yet use free will either well or ill. 
Now in this passage I have said that all men are either wise or 
foolish, meaning all men who have the use of reason, whereby 
they are distinguished as men from the animals, as in the sen- 
tence, All men wish to be happy. We need not fear that little 
children will be understood as included, for they cannot as yet 
will to be happy; and yet the sentence is quite true, obviously. 

5. In Chapter xvi, after relating what the Lord Jesus did when 
he was in the flesh, I added, “Why, you ask, do not such things 
happen now?” and my reply was, “Because they would not 
affect us unless they were marvellous, and they would not be 
marvellous if they were familiar.” In saying that, I meant that 
such great miracles do not happen now, not that no miracles 
happen even today. 

6. In Chapter xviii, at the end of the book, I say that I have not 
begun to refute the Manichees and to attack their absurdities, 
nor to say anything important about the Catholic Faith. “I 
wanted simply if possible to rid you of a false opinion about 
true Christians maliciously or ignorantly distilled into us, and 
to stimulate you to learn certain great divine truths. Let this 
book be as it is. If your mind is somewhat placated, perhaps I 
shall be more ready to deal with other questions.” I did not 
mean that I had hitherto written nothing against the Mani- 
chees, and nothing about Catholic teaching, for the books pre- 
viously mentioned, published by me, testify that I had not kept 
silent on either subject. But in this book I had not begun to 
refute the Manichees or to attack their absurdities or to ex- 
pound anything important about the Catholic Faith. I hoped 
that with this as a beginning I should later be writing to 
Honoratus himself what I had not yet written in this book. The 
book begins: Si mihi , Honor ate, mum atque idem videretur esse . . . . 



The Usefulness of Belief 


INTRODUCTION 

N othing, it seems, is known of Honoratus to 
whom this tractate is addressed beyond what may be 
gleaned from the tractate itself. It is true, a certain 
Honoratus of Carthage sent a number of exegetical queries to 
St. Augustine who, in 412, replied in a lengthy Epistle ( Epist . 
1 40) , a veritable treatise in itself on the theme of the Grace of 
the New Testament. There is nothing in the Epistle to suggest 
that the two men are identical, though they well may be. It 
would be pleasant to think that St. Augustine won his case. 

The Honoratus of De Util . Cred. was a student friend of St. 
Augustine in his Carthaginian days, and shared in his early 
enthusiasm for philosophy. Unlike his friend he had not come 
from a Christian home, and he had a strong aversion to the 
Manichees which was with difficulty overcome. But as the 
result of St. Augustine’s persuasion he consented to become a 
hearer in that sect. He was acute enough to observe that the 
Manichees were more clever at refuting and deriding the tenets 
of others than at giving convincing proof of the truth of their 
own. He also suspected the weakness of a position which, while 
professing to accept the New Testament documents, too fre- 
quently attempted to get rid of inconvenient passages by 
alleging that they had been interpolated. Nevertheless, Honor- 
atus had retained his connection with the sect long after St. 
Augustine had abandoned it, possibly because he had despaired 
of finding a satisfactory system to take its place. Catholic 
Christianity in particular offended him because of its demand 
for belief upon authority. 

This treatise, written shortly after St. Augustine had become 
a presbyter in Hippo in 391, may be said to show him at his 

287 



288 


augustine: earlier writings 


best in controversy; unbending no doubt, but also amiable and 
reasonable. In his eagerness to win Honoratus for the Catholic 
Faith, he treats him with the utmost courtesy and respect. He 
reasons with him as an old friend, pointing out the way he had 
himself travelled through painful doubt to faith, hoping that 
Honoratus will be induced to follow it. The brief account of his 
personal history (sect. 20) most interestingly confirms, so far as 
it goes, the account in the Confessions . Here, too, are to be found 
his most cogent pleas for the authority of the Catholic tradition. 
Because it is founded on historical events (the life of Christ and 
the New Testament miracles), and has obtained world-wide 
acceptance, and inspired the ascetic life in many, it may well be 
believed and trusted as a starting-point, at least, for those who 
seek true religion which is the highest wisdom, important there- 
fore if recondite. Even those who think they can achieve know- 
ledge of truth and of God by reason alone cannot neglect this 
authoritative tradition. 

The main subject of the treatise is the relation of faith and 
reason. It is perhaps surprising that it should be entitled the 
Utility and not the Reasonableness of Believing , but this corre- 
sponds to a central element of St. Augustine’s early thought. 
Knowing, the result of rational demonstration, is the highest 
achievement of mind. But it is difficult except for the few who 
are wise. (Later he came to hold that it was impossible so far 
as religion is concerned for any man in this life.) Belief is a 
means to an end, which is knowledge, a necessary means for 
nearly all men, and not to be despised even by the wise, if only 
that the many who are foolish may not be discouraged. What 
is true of the intellectual life is even more obvious of the prac- 
tical life of duty. Even sceptics, who teach that in the practical 
life probability is the rule, thereby implicitly recognize belief as 
the bond of human society. Moreover, historical events, e.g., 
the life and teaching of Christ, cannot strictly speaking be 
known, but can only be believed on the ground of credible 
testimony. Here the argument is developed which was to be 
expressed later in extreme and epigrammatic form, “I should 
not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic 
Church moved me to do so” ( Against the Fundamental Epistle of 
Manichaeus. 6 ). 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 



ANALYSIS 

i, i — ii, 4. Introductory Address to Honoratus. 

Recalling early association in pursuit of wisdom, and ex- 
plaining the subject and purpose of the treatise. 

iii, 5-9. Fourfold Sense of Old Testament Scriptures. 

(5) Definitions. (6-8) Examples from the New Testament. 
( 9 ) Allegory. 

iv, 10 — vi, 13. Difficulty of Interpretation of Literature. 
(10-12) Various possible misunderstandings. (13) Old Testa- 
ment Scripture peculiarly difficult, but also peculiarly im- 
portant for religion. It should be approached with respect, 
and with the aid of the best teachers, as we approach the study 
of Vergil. 

vii, 14 — viii, 20. Seeking Religion resembles seeking Culture and 
Wisdom. 

(14) True religion and wisdom are identical. (15) Where 
opinions differ we must go to the most widely renowned 
teachers, 4 4 that we may err with the human race itself.” 
(16) The best teachers of rhetoric, e.g., are usually surrounded 
by a mass of pupils, few of whom excel; so also with religious 
teachers. The multitude of their disciples should not repel us. 
(18) The Catholic Faith by its weight of authority, its world- 
wide acceptance and general support is at least the obvious 
starting-point. (20) Augustine’s intellectual pilgrimage from 
doubt to faith since he left Africa. 

ix, 21 — xiii, 29. Faith and Reason. 

(22) Difference between belief and credulity. (23) The religi- 
ous inquirer demands that his sincerity be believed. (24) Not 
everyone can use reason in religion. Those fitted to do so 
should not grudge the easier way of believing to those less 
able. (25) Knowing, believing and holding an (uninstructed) 
opinion. Only rational truth can be known. Events in the 
past cannot strictly be known but can be believed. In prac- 
tical life probability is the only guide, and this implies some 
kind of faith. (26) The stability of human society depends on 
believing. (27) The foolish must believe and obey the wise, 
especially in religion, but (28) it is impossible for the foolish 
to decide who is wise. (29) There will be no earnest search for 
religious truth unless men first believe that God exists and 
gives aid to seeking minds. 

A.E.W, — 19 



290 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

xiv, 30 — xvii, 35. Belief in Christ. 

(31) All heretics who hold the Christian name demand belief 
in Christ on the ground of Scripture. Such belief can only be 
grounded on Catholic tradition. (32) Christ himself de- 
manded belief, and performed miracles in order to win the 
belief of men who could not be won by reason. (34) The 
authority of the Catholic tradition is based on the miracles 
of Christ in the past by which he gathered a multitude of 
believers, also on the successful expansion of Christianity, and 
its continuance. (35) The ascetic lives of many simple 
Christians also supports its authority, 
xviii, 36. Final Appeal to Honoratus to abandon Manichaeism. 



The Usefulness of Belief 


THE TEXT 


To Honoratus 

i, i. If I thought, Honoratus, that there was no difference be- 
tween a heretic and one who follows heretics, I should judge that 
my tongue and my pen alike should remain quiescent in this 
matter. But there is a great difference. A heretic, as I suppose, 
is one who for some temporal advantage, and chiefly for his 
own glory and pre-eminence, begets or follows new and false 
opinions. He who trusts such men is deluded by some illusory 
appearance of truth or piety. That being so, I thought I ought 
not to keep silent from you what I think about the discovery and 
the retaining of truth, for which, as you know, I burned with a 
great flame of love since my early youth. Truth is far removed 
from the minds of vain men who have gone too far among 
worldly concerns and, falling, think there is nothing beyond 
what they perceive by the senses, these five well-known mes- 
sengers of the body. Even when they endeavour to withdraw 
from the senses, they carry with them the impressions and 
images received from the senses, and think that by their death- 
dealing and fallacious rule the ineffable sanctuary of truth is to 
be rightly measured. Nothing is easier, my dear friend, than to 
say or even to think that one has discovered the truth. How diffi- 
cult it really is you will, I trust, recognize from this letter of 
mine. That it may be a help or at least not a hindrance to you 
and to all into whose hands it may chance to fall, I have prayed 
to God and do pray. And I hope it may be so, if I am right in 
feeling that I have taken up my pen with a pious and dutiful 
mind and with no desire for vain reputation or empty 
ostentation. 

2. My purpose, therefore, is to prove to you, if I can, that the 



292 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

Manichees rashly and sacrilegiously inveigh against those who, 
accepting the authority of the Catholic Faith, before they can 
behold the truth which only the pure heart can behold, are 
forearmed by believing, and are prepared for being enlightened 
by God. You know, Honoratus, that I fell among these people 
for no other reason than that they declared that they would put 
aside all overawing authority, and by pure and simple reason 
would bring to God those who were willing to listen to them, 
and so deliver them from all error. What else compelled me for 
nearly nine years to spurn the religion implanted in me as a 
boy by my parents, to follow these men and listen diligently to 
them, than that they said we were overawed by superstition 
and were bidden to believe rather than to reason, while 
they pressed no one to believe until the truth had been dis- 
cussed and elucidated? Who would not be enticed by these 
promises, especially if he were an adolescent with a mind eager 
for truth, but made proud and garrulous by the disputes of 
learned men in school? Such they found me then, scorning what 
I took to be old wives 5 tales, and desirous of swallowing and 
holding the open and sincere truth which they promised. But 
again, what reason kept me from wholly cleaving to them? For 
I remained in the grade they call ‘ 'hearers 5 5 so that I might not 
give up worldly hopes and duties. The reason was that I ob- 
served that they were more clever and ready of wit in refuting 
others than firm and sure in proving their own doctrines. Why 
do I speak of myself, who was then a Catholic Christian, and who 
have now, nearly exhausted and parched after my long thirst, 
sought again with all avidity the breasts which nourished me, 
and, weeping and deeply groaning, have pressed them, that 
there might come forth sufficient to refresh me in my present 
state and bring back hope of life and salvation? Why do I speak 
of myself? You were not yet a Christian when you were, by my 
exhortation, with difficulty induced to hear and find out about 
these men whom you violently detested. What else delighted 
you, I pray you to recall, save their great presumption and the 
promise of a reasoned doctrine? Well, they harangued at great 
length and with great vigour against the errors of simple people, 
which I have since learned is extremely easy for anyone to do 
who is moderately educated; and if they taught us any of their 
own doctrines we thought we must maintain it because nothing 
else occurred to us to set our minds at rest. They dealt with us as 
tricky fowlers are wont to do, who fix their limed twigs near 
water to deceive thirsty birds. Other water they cover and con- 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 


293 

ceal, or set up terrifying devices to scare the birds from them so 
that they may fall into their trap, not by their own choice but 
by lack of any other supply. 

3. I might, of course, answer myself by saying that these neat 
and clever similes, and such censures generally, can be most 
politely and eloquently used by any adversary against all who 
teach any doctrine whatever. But I thought it right to put that 
sort of thing into my letter to warn them to cease to use similar 
modes of controversy. As Cicero says: “Let us give up trifling 
commonplaces and let us meet fact with fact, case with case, 
reason with reason.” Let them cease to use die expression which 
trips from their mouths as by some necessity when some one has 
left them after long attending their discourses, “Light has passed 
completely through him.” I do not bother so much about them; 
but you, who are my chief concern, will observe how easy and 
vain is this method of censuring anyone. I leave this point to 
your prudence. I have no fear that you will think I was the 
dwelling-place of light when I was involved in the life of this 
world, nursing shadowy hopes of a beautiful wife, of the pomp 
of riches, of empty honours and other pernicious and deadly 
pleasures. All these things, as you know, I did not cease to desire 
and hope for when I was their zealous hearer. I do not attribute 
this to their teaching, for I confess that they carefully warned 
me to beware of these things. Only, to say that I have been 
abandoned by light when I have turned away from all these 
shadowy things and have decided to be content with such a 
livelihood as is necessary for bodily health, but that I was bright 
and illumined when I loved these things and was held their 
prisoner, is the mark of a man who, to put it mildly, has no very 
clear insight into matters about which he loves too much to 
prate. But let us come to the controversy itself. 

ii, 4. You know well that the Manichees by their censures of 
the Catholic Faith and chiefly by their destructive criticism of 
the Old Testament affect the unlearned, who do not quite know 
how these things are to be understood, and how, being usefully 
taken, they may go down into the veins and the marrow of souls 
still unweaned, so to speak. Because some of these things offend 
ignorant and uncareful minds — the great majority — they can 
be popularly attacked. Not many have the power to defend 
them in an equally popular way, because of the mysteries they 
contain. The few who know how to do this do not love public 
controversy with its consequent publicity. Hence they are un- 
known except to those who seek them out. Therefore, concerning 



294 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

the rashness of the Manichees in censuring the Old Testament 
and the Catholic Faith, listen, I pray you, to the considera- 
tions which influence me. I hope and pray that you will accept 
them in the spirit in which they are written. God, to whom 
the secrets of my conscience are known, knows that in this 
little book I am doing nothing in malice, but in the hope 
that my words may be acceptable in proof of the truth. For a 
long time now, and with incredible solicitude, I have deter- 
mined to live for the truth alone. I trust that, while it was very 
easy for me to err in your company, to keep with you the 
straight path may not be, to avoid a harsher expression, very 
difficult indeed. In the hope which I cherish that you will find 
with me the path of wisdom, I am sure he will not leave me to 
whom I have dedicated myself, whom day and night I seek to 
behold, and to whom I often pray even weeping, because I know 
myself incapable of beholding him, since the eye of my soul has 
been damaged by my sins and by my being habituated to the 
plagues of lethargic opinions. As eyes which are scarcely opened 
after a long period of darkness and blindness turn away and 
refuse the light which, nevertheless, they desire, especially if one 
try to point them to the sun, so, in my case, I do not deny that 
there is an ineffable and unique spiritual good visible to the 
mind, but I confess with weeping and groaning that I am not 
yet fitted to contemplate it. Nevertheless, he will not leave me 
if I make no pretence, if I follow the path of duty, if I love truth 
and friendship, if I am filled with anxiety lest you be deceived. 

iii, 5. The whole Old Testament Scripture, to those who 
diligently desire to know it, is handed down with a four-fold 
sense — historical, aetiological, analogical, allegorical. Don’t 
think me clumsy in using Greek terms, because in the first place 
these were the terms I was taught, and I do not venture to pass 
on to you anything else than what I have received. You will 
notice also that amongst us Latins, there are no words in com- 
mon use to express these ideas. If I were to attempt a translation 
of them I might be even clumsier. If I were to use circumlocu- 
tions I should be less speedy in my exposition. This only I ask 
you to believe that, however I stray, I write nothing merely in 
the interests of a proudly inflated style. In Scripture, according 
to the historical sense, we are told what has been written or 
done. Sometimes the historical fact is simply that such and such 
a thing was written. According to the aetiological sense we are 
told for what cause something has been done or said. According 
to the analogical sense we are shown that the Old and New 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 295 

Testaments do not conflict. According to the allegorical sense 
we are taught that everything in Scripture is not to be taken 
literally but must be understood figuratively. 

6. In all these senses our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles 
used Scripture. When it was objected that his disciples plucked 
ears of corn on the Sabbath day, his answer was taken from 
history — “Have ye not read what David did when he was 
hungry and those who were with him; how he entered the house 
of God and ate the shew-bread, which it was not lawful for him 
to eat or for those who were with him, but only for the priests” 
(Matt. 12:3-4). To aetiology belongs the answer Christ gave 
to his questioners who, when he forbade divorce except for 
fornication, told them that Moses had allowed divorce if a bill 
of divorcement were given — “Moses did this on account of the 
hardness of your hearts” (Matt. 19:8). Here a reason was given 
why Moses properly gave permission owing to the circumstances 
of the time, while Christ gave his commandment under dif- 
ferent circumstances. It would take a long time to explain the 
changes of the times and the order of change which is fixed and 
settled by a wondrous disposition of divine providence. 

7. Then there is the analogical sense which shows the agree- 
ment of the two Testaments. I need not say that this is used by 
all whose authority is accepted by the Manichees. It is their 
own affair to resolve the problem created by their wonted sug- 
gestion that many things have been interpolated into the divine 
Scriptures by I know not what corrupters of the truth. That 
assertion always seemed to me, even when I was their hearer, 
utterly invalid. And not to me only but to you (for I well 
remember) , and to all of us who tried to exercise a little more 
care in judging than did the mass of their followers. But now 
when many of the passages which troubled me most have been 
explained and straightened out — those ones especially in dealing 
with which their oratory reached its climax, giving itself a freer 
rein in the absence of any adversary — none of their teachings 
seems to be more shameless, or to use a milder expression, 
weaker or less cautious, than their assertion that the divine 
Scriptures have been corrupted, for they can produce no ex- 
emplars still extant to prove it. If they said that these writings 
were not to be accepted because written by men who in their 
judgment did not write the truth, their cavilling would be more 
upright or their error more worthy of cultivated people. This 
they have done with the book called the Acts of the Apostles. 
When I consider their method I can hardly marvel at it enough. 



296 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

In a matter like this I do not need man’s wisdom but simply an 
ordinary heart. Obviously there is so much in that book which 
resembles the things they accept that it seems to me the greatest 
stupidity not to accept it too, and to say that what offends them 
in it is false and interpolated. Or if that would be impudent, as 
it is, why do they attribute some value to the Epistles of Paul 
or to the Four Books of the Gospel, in which, I suppose, there 
is a far higher proportion than in the Acts, of passages which 
they make out to have been interpolated by corrupters. Now 
that is just the point which I ask you to consider with me, judg- 
ing quietly and calmly. You know that they endeavour to in- 
clude Manes, their founder, among the apostles, and say that 
the Holy Spirit whom the Lord promised to send to his dis- 
ciples, came to us through Manes. Accordingly, if they accepted 
the Acts of the Apostles, in which the advent of the Holy Spirit 
is clearly set forth, they would not find any way of explaining 
how that passage had been interpolated. Their alleged cor- 
rupters of the divine Scriptures must have lived before the time 
of Manes, and must have belonged to those who wished to mix 
the Jewish Law with the Gospel. But they cannot attribute the 
passage about the Holy Spirit to such people, unless possibly 
they allege that they prophesied and put into their book some- 
thing that might later be urged against Manes, who said that 
the Holy Spirit was sent through himself. I shall speak more 
plainly about the Holy Spirit elsewhere. Let me now return to 
my theme. 

8. I think I have shown sufficiently that Old Testament his- 
tory, aetiology and analogy are found in the New Testament. 
It remains to show the existence of allegory. Our Saviour him- 
self used an allegory from the Old Testament when he said: 
“This generation seeketh a sign, but none shall be given to it 
but the sign of the prophet Jonah; for as Jonah was in the belly 
of the whale three days and three nights, so shall the Son of 
Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” 
(Matt. 12:39-40). What shall I say of the apostle Paul who in 
the first Epistle to the Corinthians explains that the history of 
the Exodus was an allegory of the Christian people that was to 
be: “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, how that all our 
fathers were under the cloud and all passed through the sea. 
And all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 
and did all eat the same spiritual food, and did all drink the 
same spiritual drink. For they drank of the spiritual rock that 
followed them: and that rock was Christ. But with many of 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 297 

them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in 
the wilderness. Now these things were our examples that we 
should not lust after evil things, as they lusted. Neither be ye 
idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat 
down to eat and drink and rose up to play. Neither let us com- 
mit fornication, as some of them committed and fell in one day 
three and twenty thousand men. Neither let us tempt Christ, 
as some of them tempted and were destroyed by serpents. 
Neither let us murmur as some of them murmured, and were 
destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto 
them in a figure, but they were written for our admonition, 
upon whom the ends of the age are come” (I Cor. 10:1-11). 
There is another allegory also in the apostle’s writings which is 
very pertinent to the present issue, inasmuch as the Manichees 
themselves are wont to produce it and point to it. To the 
Galatians Paul says: “For it is written that Abraham had two 
sons, the one by a bond-maid, the other by a freewoman. But 
he who was born of the bond-maid was born after the flesh; 
but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an 
allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from Mount 
Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Hagar. For Sinai 
is a mountain in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which 
now is, and is in bondage with her children. But the Jeru- 
salem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” 
(Gal. 4:22-26). 

9. Here these wicked men, while they try to make the Law of 
none effect, at the same time compel us to approve of these 
Scriptures. They pay attention where it is said that those are 
in servitude who are under the Law, and above other passages 
brandish this decisive one: “You who are justified by the Law 
are banished from Christ. You have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). 
Now we admit that all this is true. We do not say the Law is 
necessary save for those for whom servitude is profitable. It was 
profitably laid down because men, who could not be won from 
their sins by reason, had to be coerced by threats and terrors of 
penalties which even fools can understand. When the grace of 
Christ sets men free from such threats and penalties it does not 
condemn the Law but invites us now to submit to his love and 
not to be slaves to fear. Grace is a benefaction conferred by 
God, which those do not understand who desire to continue 
under the bondage of the Law. Paul rightly calls them un- 
believers, reproachfully, who do not believe that they are now 
set free by our Lord Jesus from a servitude to which they had 



298 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

been subjected by the just judgment of God. Hence this other 
saying of the same apostle: “The Law was our pedagogue in 
Christ” (Gal. 3:24). God, thus, gave men a pedagogue whom 
they might fear, and later gave them a master whom they might 
love. But in these precepts and mandates of the Law which 
Christians may not now lawfully obey, such as the Sabbath, 
circumcision, sacrifice and the like, there are contained such 
mysteries that every pious man may understand there is nothing 
more pernicious than to take whatever is there literally, and 
nothing more wholesome than to let the truth be revealed by 
the spirit. For this reason: “The letter killeth but the spirit 
quickeneth” (II Cor. 3:6). And again: “The same vail remains 
in the reading of the Old Testament and there is no revelation, 
for in Christ the vail is done away 5 ’ (II Cor. 3:14). It is not the 
Old Testament that is done away in Christ but the concealing 
vail, so that it may be understood through Christ. That is, as 
it were, laid bare, which without Christ is obscure and hidden. 
The same apostle adds immediately: “When thou shalt turn to 
Christ the vail will be taken away 5 ’ (II Cor. 3:16). He does not 
say: “The Law or the Old Testament will be taken away. 5 ’ It 
is not the case, therefore, that by the grace of the Lord that 
which was covered has been abolished as useless; rather the 
covering has been removed which concealed useful truth. This 
is what happens to those who earnestly and piously, not proudly 
and wickedly, seek the sense of the Scriptures. To them is care- 
fully demonstrated the order of events, the reasons for deeds and 
words, and the agreement of the Old Testament with the New, 
so that not a point remains where there is not complete har- 
mony; and such secret truths are conveyed in figures that when 
they are brought to light by interpretation they compel those 
who wished to condemn rather than to learn, to confess their 
discomfiture. 

iv, 10. Meantime, leaving aside all deep science, let me treat 
you as I think I should treat my familiar friend, that is accord- 
ing to my own ability, and not as learned men whom I have 
admired might do. There are three kinds of error to which men 
are liable when they read. First, they may accept as true what is 
false, and what the writer knew to be false. Secondly — though 
this is not so obvious but no less deadly — they may accept as 
true a false opinion actually held by the writer. Thirdly, they 
may understand some truth from another’s writing, which the 
writer himself did not understand. In this kind of error there is 
i\9 Uttle advantage. Indeed, if you consider it carefully you will 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 299 

see that herein lies the whole benefit of reading. An example of 
the first kind of error is this. Suppose someone were to believe 
that Rhadamanthus in the underworld hears and judges the 
cases of the dead because he read it in Vergil’s Aeneid. Here is a 
double error. He believes an incredible thing, and the author 
himself is not to be credited with believing it. Here is an ex- 
ample of the second kind of error. Suppose someone were to 
take it as true that the soul is composed of atoms and after death 
is dissolved into the same atoms and perishes, because Lucretius 
wrote it. He is no less unhappy if in so great a matter he is per- 
suaded to accept as certain what is false, though indeed 
Lucretius, whose book has deceived him, did hold that opinion. 
What advantage is it to be certain about a writer’s opinion 
when one has chosen a companion in error and not a deliverer 
from error? The third kind of error is complementary. Suppose 
someone were to read a passage in a book of Epicurus in which 
continence was praised, and were to assert that Epicurus taught 
that virtue was the Supreme Good, and consequently was not 
to be blamed. The error of Epicurus in believing that bodily 
pleasure was man’s Supreme Good does no harm to such a 
reader, for he has not accepted so base and deadly an opinion. 
Indeed, Epicurus pleases him for no other reason than that he 
supposes that he, Epicurus, did not hold an opinion that ought 
not to be held. An error of this kind is not only entirely proper 
but is often very worthy in a good man. Suppose it were reported 
to me of one whom I loved that, having reached adult life, he 
declared to many listeners that he liked boyhood and infancy 
so much that he wanted to continue in that condition of life; 
suppose the proof that he said so was so strong that I could not 
decently deny it; would I seem blameworthy if I judged that 
when he said it he meant that what pleased him was innocence 
and a mind free from the cupidities in which the human race is 
involved, and therefore loved him more than I had done before, 
yes, even if as a boy he had foolishly loved ignoble ease and too 
great liberty to play and eat? Suppose he died soon after this 
was reported to me and I had no opportunity to question him 
and discover what his opinion really was. Would anyone be so 
unjust as to be angry with me because I praised his intent and 
purpose on the basis of the words I had heard? Probably no just 
judge of such matters would hesitate to praise my high opinion 
of innocence and my good will in thinking well of a man, though 
there was some doubt, and I might have thought ill of him. 
v, 1 1 . Such being the case as regards readers, let me tell you 



300 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

that conversely there are necessarily the same number of diffi- 
culties from the point of view of writers. Either one may write 
usefully and be misunderstood or both the writing and the 
understanding may be at fault, or the reader derives an advan- 
tage while the writer meant something quite different. Of these 
three possibilities I make no adverse comment on the first, and 
the third does not concern me. I cannot blame a writer who is 
misunderstood through no fault of his own. Nor am I troubled 
when I see that a writer who has not grasped the truth does not 
harm his readers. But the best and most admirable situation is 
found only when good things are written and are properly 
understood by the readers. Even in this case, because we have to 
do with two minds, the possibility of error is not completely 
excluded. For it often happens that the writer’s views are sound, 
and the reader’s also, but the latter holds them in a different 
sense, sometimes a better sense, sometimes an inferior sense, 
but always profitably. But when we share the views of our 
author and they are suited to promote good conduct, the cause 
of truth is served in a high degree and no place is left open to 
falsehood. Now, when we have to do with very obscure matters 
this kind of relationship between author and reader is extremely 
rare, and in my opinion it is not a case where clear knowledge 
is possible but only faith. How can I find out the intention and 
meaning of an author who is absent or dead, in such a way that 
I could give evidence as to them on oath. Even if he were pre- 
sent and could be interrogated, even if he were not a bad man, 
he could still conceal many things from a sense of duty. But I 
do not think that the character of an author has much to do 
with the task of sifting truth. It is most honourable to believe 
that an author was a good man, whose writings were intended 
to benefit the human race and posterity. 

12. Now let the Manichees tell me how they would classify 
what they are pleased to call the error of the Catholic Church. 
If in the first class, the charge is grave, but a long defence is not 
necessary. It is sufficient to say that we do not so understand the 
Old Testament as they seem to imagine when they attack us. If 
in the second class, the charge is no less grave, but the same 
answer refutes it. If in the third class, there is no indictment at 
all. Just consider the Scriptures themselves. What exactly do 
they object to in the books of the Old Testament? Are they good 
books but badly understood by us? But the Manichees refuse 
to accept them. Are they bad books and badly understood by 
us? The previous reply is sufficient here too. Will they say that 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 301 

they are bad books though well understood by us? But that is 
simply to absolve living adversaries with whom the case is 
being argued, and to accuse men long since dead with whom 
there can be no argument. For my part, I believe that the 
authors of the Old Testament were great and divine men, who 
to our profit handed down their writings, and that the Law was 
promulgated and codified at the command and by the will of 
God. And I can easily prove it (though I know very few books 
of this kind) if a calm and not too obstinate mind will give me its 
attention. I shall do so when you give me a kindly hearing. But 
when shall I have such an opportunity? Is it not enough for me 
at present that you should not be deceived as to how the 
matter stands? 

vi, 13. I call my conscience to witness, Honoratus, I call 
God who dwells in pure souls to witness, that I am convinced 
there is nothing more wise, more chaste, more religious than 
those Scriptures which the Catholic Church accepts under the 
name of the Old Testament. You are amazed, I am sure. For I 
cannot pretend that I was not formerly of a very different 
opinion. But there is nothing more rash — and of rashness as a 
boy I had plenty — than to desert the professed expositors of 
books which they possess and hand on to their disciples, and 
instead to go asking the opinion of others who, for no reason I 
can think of, have declared most bitter war against the authors 
of these books. Who ever thought of having the obscure and 
recondite works of Aristotle expounded to him by an enemy of 
Aristotle? I am speaking of studies in which the student may 
slip without committing sacrilege. Who ever wished to read or 
learn the geometrical treatises of Archimedes with Epicurus as 
his master, who, understanding nothing of them so far as I can 
judge, nevertheless pertinaciously attacked them in his dis- 
courses? Are the Scriptures of the Law, which the Manichees 
attack vainly and foolishly, so very plain and open to vulgar 
understanding? These men seem to me to resemble the woman 
whom they are wont to deride. In her religious simplicity, 
irritated because a Manichaean woman praised the sun and 
commended it as an object of worship, she leapt up in her excite- 
ment and stamped on the place on the floor illumined by the 
rays that came in through the window, exclaiming: tc Lo, I 
tread under foot the sun, your God. 55 Utterly foolish and so like 
a woman! No one denies it. But don’t you think the Manichees 
are just like that, who with floods of oratory and malevolent 
criticism tear to pieces books which they do not understand, of 



302 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

which they do not know the purpose or the nature, books which 
look quite simple but, to those who understand, are subtle and 
divine; and, because the ignorant applaud, think they have 
achieved something wonderful. All that is in these Scriptures, 
believe me, is profound and divine. All truth is there, and learn- 
ing suited to refresh and restore souls, but in such a form that 
there is no one who may not draw thence all he needs, provided 
he comes to draw in a spirit of piety and devotion such as true 
religion demands. To prove that to you would require many 
reasons and a long discourse. I must get you first not to hate 
these authors and then to love them, and how else can this be 
done except by expounding their writings and their teachings. 
If we hated Vergil, indeed if we did not love him, before we 
knew anything about him, because our seniors praised him, we 
should never derive any satisfaction from the innumerable Ver- 
gilian questions that are wont to excite and agitate teachers of 
literature. We should not be willing to listen to anyone who 
discussed these questions and praised the poet. We should be 
favourably impressed by any one who tried to show that he was 
wrong or mad. But now, many teachers try to explain these 
questions variously according to the capacity of each; and those 
obtain the greatest applause by whose exposition the poet ap- 
pears in the best light, so that even those who do not understand 
him at least believe that he was guilty of no error and that his 
poems are admirable in all respects. So if in any question the 
teacher fails to give an answer, we are angry with him, and do 
not attribute his dullness to the fault of Vergil. If he tried to 
defend himself by blaming so famous an author he would soon 
be without pupils and fees. Surely we should show a similar 
respect to those through whom the Holy Spirit spoke, as age- 
long tradition has affirmed. But we, intelligent youths forsooth, 
marvellous explorers of reason, without turning over these 
books, without seeking teachers, without the slightest suspicion 
of our own slowness of comprehension, without the slightest 
heed paid to those whose care it has been that these books 
should be read, guarded and studied throughout the world and 
for so long a time — we had the temerity to suppose that nothing 
such men said was to be believed, influenced as we were by 
their bitter enemies, among whom, because of their false promise 
of reason, we were compelled to believe and cherish an unheard- 
of number of fables. 

vii, 14. Now I shall, if I may, go on with my task, and I shall 
endeavour, not meantime to explain the Catholic Faith, but to 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 303 

urge those who care for their souls to examine its great mys- 
teries, and I shall show them that there is hope of divine fruit 
and of finding truth. No one doubts that he who seeks true 
religion either believes already that the soul, which is to profit 
by religion, is immortal, or at least hopes to gain that belief 
from religion itself. All religion is on account of the soul. No 
man has any care or anxiety about the condition of his natural 
body, at any rate after death, if his soul possesses that which 
will make it blessed. On account; of the soul alone or chiefly, 
therefore, true religion, if there is one, is instituted. But the soul 
— I know not why and I confess the problem is obscure — the 
soul errs and is foolish, as we see, until it obtains and compre- 
hends wisdom. Wisdom is perchance true religion. Am I sending 
you to fables? Am I compelling you to believe anything rashly? 
I say our soul is ensnared and plunged in folly and error, but 
seeks the path of truth, if there be any. If this is not your experi- 
ence, pardon me, and share with me, I pray, your wisdom. But 
if you recognize in your own heart that it is as I say, let us, I 
beseech you, seek the truth together. 

15. Suppose we have never heard any teacher of such a 
religion. We are undertaking an entirely new enterprise. We 
must first, I suppose, seek for men who profess to teach it. Sup- 
pose we have discovered that some hold one opinion, some an- 
other, and in the diversity of opinions all desire to attract 
inquirers, each to his own opinion. But suppose that among 
them there are some of notable celebrity, accepted by nearly all 
nations. Whether in fact they possess the truth remains a big 
question. But surely we must first find out about them, so that 
so long as we err, being human, we may seem to err with the 
human race itself. 

16. But, you say, truth is found among the few. If you know 
where it is to be found, you are assuming that you know what it 
is, but my hypothesis is that we are starting our search from 
scratch. Nevertheless, granted that you are compelled by the 
force of truth to conjecture that only a few can possess it, you 
do not know who, in fact, these are. Now suppose the few who 
know the truth are able to hold the multitude by their authority, 
and can therefore expound and elucidate their secrets widely. 
What then? We see that very few attain consummate eloquence, 
though throughout the whole world the schools of rhetoric 
thunder in the ears of crowds of young men. Surely those who 
wish to become good orators will not take alarm at the multi- 
tude of the unlearned, and imagine that they must pay attention 



304 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

to the orations of Caecilius and Erucius rather than to those 
of Cicero. Everyone wants to study Cicero’s works because 
they are established by the authority of our ancestors. The 
crowds of the unlearned endeavour to learn what is prescribed 
for their learning by a few learned men. But very few succeed. 
Still fewer put their learning into practice. And only a fraction 
attain to fame. Perhaps true religion is something like that. No 
doubt the churches are frequented by multitudes of unlearned 
persons, but that does not prove that among them there is none 
who is perfectly equipped in these mysterious truths. If no more 
studied eloquence than the few who become eloquent, our 
parents would never have sent us to the rhetoricians. But if we 
were drawn to these studies by the very multitude of students, 
most of them unlearned, and sought to obtain what only a few 
can obtain, why should we refuse to see something similar in 
the case of religion, which we despise to the great danger, per- 
haps, of our souls? Granted that the truest and most sincere 
worship of God is likely to be found among a few; suppose these 
few have the assent of a multitude of people involved though 
they may be in cupidities and far from true understanding — 
which undoubtedly can happen — what answer, I ask, could we 
give to any one who censured our temerity and folly in not seek- 
ing diligently from its proper teachers that which we were most 
eager to find? The multitude scared me away? What about the 
liberal arts which offer hardly any advantage even for the pre- 
sent life? What about the effort to acquire money, or to obtain 
honour? What about finding and maintaining good health? 
Finally, what about the desire for happiness? All men are con- 
cerned about these matters, while only a few excel. But cer- 
tainly no one is deterred from seeking these things because of 
the multitude of seekers. 

17. But it appears, you say, that ridiculous things are taught 
in the Church. Who asserts it? Enemies forsooth. I do not at 
present inquire why they are enemies, or with what reason, but 
enemies they are. When I read a book I take in the knowledge 
all by myself! Do I indeed? Without some training in the poetic 
art you would not venture to touch Terentianus Maurus without 
a teacher. You need Asper, Cornutus, Donatus and innumerable 
others if you are to understand any poet whose poems and plays 
apparently win applause. Will you boldly venture without a 
teacher to study books, which, whatever they may be otherwise, 
are at least holy and full of divine teachings, and are widely 
famed with the assent of almost the whole human race? Will 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 


305 

you dare to pass sentence on them without a teacher? If any- 
thing occurs in them which seems to you absurd, would you not 
accuse the slowness and worldly corruption of your own mind 
— which is common to all fools — before you bring an accusation 
against books which, maybe, cannot be understood by fools. 
You would seek for someone both pious and learned, or who 
was widely reputed to be such, by whose precepts you might be 
made better, and more learned by his teaching. But such a man, 
you say, is not easy to find. You would make elaborate in- 
quiries. There is none in the land you live in? What better cause 
could there be to send you on a journey? There is none, or at 
least no signs of one, on the mainland? You would take ship. 
If none were found in the nearest country across the sea, you 
would proceed to the lands where the history recorded in these 
books is said to have been enacted. We did nothing of the kind, 
Honoratus. Instead, by our own arbitrary judgment, we un- 
happy youths condemned a religion which might have proved 
to be most holy, and at any rate was still an open question, a 
religion which has taken possession of the whole world. What if 
those things in the Scriptures which seem to offend some un- 
skilled persons were put there on purpose, so that when we read 
anything abhorrent to the feelings of ordinary folk, not to men- 
tion prudent and saintly folk, we should the more earnestly look 
for a hidden meaning,. Don’t you see how men try to put some 
fine interpretation on the beloved Alexis in Vergil’s Bucolics, 
for whom the harsh shepherd sang his song? (Eclogue 2.) And 
how they affirm that the boy about whom Plato is said to have 
written an amatory poem has some deep significance which 
escapes the understanding of the unskilled? So a richly endowed 
poet, it appears, may without sacrilege publish lustful songs. 

18. Were we, then, prevented from inquiry into the Catholic 
Faith by some legal penalty, by the power of adversaries, by the 
worthless character or ill-repute of its sacred officers, by its 
recent foundation, by the fact that it must be professed in 
secret? There is nothing of that kind. No law, divine or human, 
prohibits inquiry as to the Catholic Faith. Certainly human law 
allows it to be professed and cherished. About divine law we are 
assuming that we are still uncertain. No enemy terrifies us if 
we are weak; but of course truth and the soul’s salvation ought 
to be sought at whatever risk, even if they cannot safely be sought 
and found. Dignities and powers of all ranks serve this divine cult 
with the greatest devotion. The name of religion is most honour- 
able and in the highest repute. What then hinders thorough 

A.E.W. 20 



306 augustine: earlier writings 

discussion and pious and careful investigation of the question 
whether the Catholic Faith be not the religion which a few may 
know intimately and guard, while it rejoices in the goodwill 
and favour of all nations ? 

19. Such being the case, suppose, as I said before, we are now 
for the first time inquiring to what religion we are to entrust our 
souls for purification and restoration. Without any doubt we 
must first consider the Catholic Church. Christians are more 
numerous than Jews and idolaters combined. Among Christians 
there are several heresies, but all want to be regarded as 
Catholics and call others beyond their own group heretics. But 
there is one Church, all will admit, numerically larger taking the 
whole world into consideration, and sounder in the truth than 
all others, as those affirm who know it. The question of truth 
does not, however, concern us just now. It is enough for our 
inquiry that there is one Catholic Church to which different 
heresies give different names, while they are called by names 
proper to each one which they dare not deny. Hence those who 
judge without fear or favour can discern to whom properly 
belongs the Catholic name to which all lay claim. But lest any 
think there is need of lengthy or superfluous discourse on this 
point I simply assert that there is one Church in which even 
human laws are in a manner Christian. Not that I wish to create 
any prejudice in my own favour here. Only I judge that here is 
a most suitable starting-point for our inquiry. There is no need 
to fear that the true worship of God, having no strength of its 
own to rely on, may seem to need the support of those whom it 
ought itself to support. But surely it is an entirely happy situa- 
tion if the truth can be found where there is complete security 
to seek and to possess it. Otherwise it must be approached and 
searched for elsewhere, whatever be the danger. 

viii, 20. Having established these premises which in my 
opinion are so just that I ought to win my case with you against 
any adversary, I shall to the best of my ability relate to you the 
path I followed when I began to look for the true religion in the 
spirit in which, as I have shown, it ought to be looked for. When 
I departed from you across the sea I was already in a state of 
serious doubt; what was I to hold; what was I to give up? In- 
deed my hesitation grew greater day by day from the time that 
I heard the famous Faustus. You remember, his coming to ex- 
plain all our difficulties was held out to us as a gift from heaven. 
Well, I recognized that he was no better than the others of the 
sect, except for a certain eloquence he had. When I got settled 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 307 

in Italy I reasoned with myself and deliberated long, not as to 
whether I should remain in that sect — for I was already sorry 
that I had fallen into it — but as to how truth was to be found. 
No one knows better than you do how I sighed for love of truth. 
Often it seemed to me that truth could not be found, and my 
thoughts like a great flood tended to carry me over to the 
opinion of the academics. But often again, as I reflected to the 
best of my ability how lively was the human mind, how wise, 
how penetrating, I could not believe that the truth must ever 
elude its grasp. Possibly the manner of seeking truth might be 
concealed and would have to be accepted from some divine 
authority. It remained to inquire what that authority might be, 
since among so many dissentient voices each one professed to be 
able to hand it on to me. An inextricable thicket confronted me, 
most tiresome to be involved in; and here without any rest my 
mind was agitated by the desire to find the truth. I gave up my 
customary intercourse with those whom I intended to abandon; 
and in such perils nothing remained except to pray with tears 
and lamentations that divine providence might bring me aid. 
That I did unremittingly. At this point certain disputations of 
the Bishop of Milan gave me some hope that I might find the 
answer to many Old Testament difficulties which, because they 
were badly explained to us, used to offend us. I made up my 
mind to continue a catechumen in the Church in which I had 
been brought up by my parents until either I discovered the 
truth I was seeking, or was persuaded that nothing was to be 
got by seeking. If there had been anyone who could have been 
my teacher he would at that time have found me a most ready 
and docile pupil. If, therefore, your experience has been of this 
kind, and you have been similarly anxious about your soul, if 
now at last you see you have been sufficiently tossed about and 
wish to bring your toils to an end, follow the way of the Catholic 
discipline which has been derived from Christ himself and has 
come down to us through the apostles, and by us will be passed 
on to posterity. 

ix, 21. But that is ridiculous, you say, because that is what 
all the sects profess to hold and to teach. I cannot deny that all 
the heretics do make this profession. The difference is that they 
promise to give to those whom they attract a reason even for 
their most obscure doctrines. This is the chief charge they bring 
against the Catholic Church, that it bids those who come to it to 
believe, while they themselves impose no yoke of belief, but 
glory in opening the fount of knowledge. Well, you say, what 



308 Augustine: earlier writings 

could possibly be said in greater praise of them? Ah, but the 
situation is not quite like that. They say this without having any 
ability to fulfil their promise but only to win popularity by 
prating of reason. The human soul naturally is pleased with 
such promises. It does not consider its own powers and state of 
health, and asks for the food of sound men which should only 
be given to the strong. Thus it sucks in the poison of deceivers. 
True religion cannot by any means be approached without the 
weighty command of authority. Things must first be believed of 
which a man may later achieve understanding if he conduct 
himself well and prove himself worthy. 

22. But you will probably ask to be given a plausible reason 
why, in being taught, you must begin with faith and not rather 
with reason. That is easy, provided you remain calm. That we 
may conveniently proceed, please answer my questions. Tell me 
first why you think belief ought not to be required. Because, 
you say, credulity, the characteristic of credulous people, seems 
to me to be a fault; otherwise we should not be accustomed to 
use the word credulous as a reproach. If the mistrustful man is 
at fault because he suspects everything he does not know, how 
much worse is the credulous man? For they differ in this, that 
the former doubts too much when he hears of things he does not 
know, while the latter does not doubt at all. I accept provision- 
ally this opinion and distinction. But you know that the epithet, 
curious, also usually implies a reproach, whereas to call a man 
studious is to praise him. Now what, pray, is the difference be- 
tween these two qualities? You will certainly reply that, though 
both have to do with keen desire to know, the curious man is 
one who asks about things which do not concern him, and the 
studious man, on the contrary, about things which do concern 
him. Now a man is deeply concerned about his wife and chil- 
dren and their well-being, but if anyone who was away from 
home went on asking all comers how his wife and children were 
and what they were doing, he is certainly prompted by a great 
desire to know, and yet we do not call him studious, although 
he very much wants to know about things which concern him 
very closely. Clearly our definition of the studious man breaks 
down, for, while every studious man wants to know about 
things which concern him, not every man who does so is to be 
called studious, but only he who has a strong desire to know such 
things as contribute to the liberal nurture and equipment of his 
soul. We might of course rightly say that he “studied 55 this or 
that, mentioning whatever it was that specially interested him. 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 


309 

We can say that he “studies” his family if he loves them so much, 
but we should not think him worthy of the name, studious, 
without qualification. Nor would I call a man who was desirous 
of hearing how his family was keeping, “studious of hearing,” 
unless, taking special pleasure in a good report, he wanted to 
hear one repeatedly. But I might say “he studies” to hear if he 
was satisfied to hear once. Go back now to the curious man, and 
tell me whether you think any one is to be called curious who 
gladly hears a fable which will bring him no advantage, inas- 
much as it is about things that do not concern him, but is satis- 
fied to hear it occasionally and without undue eagerness, at a 
banquet for example, or in some circle or meeting. I don’t sup- 
pose so. And yet he clearly cares for the story he gladly hears. 
Therefore the definition of the curious man must be amended in 
the same way as that of the studious man. Now see whether the 
definitions with which we began this discussion must not also 
be amended. Why should we consider a man to deserve to be 
called suspicious who suspects something sometime, or to be 
called credulous who believes something sometime. Accord- 
ingly, just as there is a great difference between one who 
“studies” something and a genuinely studious man, and again 
between one who cares for a thing and one who is curious about 
it, so there is a great difference between a believer and a 
credulous person. 

x, 23. But now, you will say, let us see whether we ought to 
believe in the matter of religion. For even if we admit that to 
believe is different from being credulous it does not follow that 
there is nothing wrong in believing in religious matters. Possibly 
believing and being credulous are two differing degrees of vice 
like being drunk on one occasion, and being drunken habitually. 
I do not see how anyone who accepts that as true can ever have 
a friend. For if to believe anything is base, either it is base to 
believe a friend, or without such belief I cannot see how anyone 
can go on speaking about friendship. Here perhaps you will 
say: I agree one must believe something sometimes, but ex- 
plain to me now how in religion it is not base to believe before 
one knows. I shall do so if I can, and so I ask you this question. 
Which do you think is more blameworthy, to hand on religion 
to one who is unworthy, or to believe what is said by those who 
hand it on? If you do not know whom I mean by one who is 
unworthy, I mean one who comes with a deceitful heart. I dare 
say you agree that it is more blameworthy to unfold holy secrets 
to such a man than to believe what religious men affirm 



310 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

concerning religion. You could not decently make any other 
reply. Now suppose you are in the presence of a man who is 
going to hand on religion to you, how are you going to assure him 
that you come in a true frame of mind, that there is no guile or 
dissimulation in you so far as concerns the matter in hand? You 
will say your conscience is clear, that you are void of deceit. 
You will assert this with all the words you are master of, which 
are, however, only words. For you cannot lay bare the lurking 
places of your mind, that you may be intimately known as man 
to man. But if he said: I indeed believe you, but would it not 
be equitable that you also believe me, seeing that, if I possess 
any truth, you are going to receive a benefit and I am going to 
confer one; what would you reply? Surely: Yes, I ought to 
believe you. 

24. But you say: Would it not have been better to have given 
me a reason so that I might follow where he led without any 
rashness? Perhaps it would. But it is a difficult matter for you 
to know God by reason. Do you think that all men are fitted to 
grasp the reasons by which the human mind is drawn to the 
knowledge of God? Or are a good many so fitted, or only a few? 
I think only a few, you say. Do you believe you are of their 
number? That is not for me to say, you reply. Do you think, 
then, that your religious teacher ought to believe this of you. 
Suppose he does so. Then remember that he has twice believed 
you when you said things he could not be certain of; but you 
were unwilling to believe him even once when he was speaking 
about religion. Granted then that you approach religion with a 
true mind, and that you belong to the small number of those 
who are able to grasp the reasons by which divine power leads 
to certain knowledge, do you think that religion is to be denied 
to other men who are not endowed with so clear a mind? Are 
they not to be brought to the inmost sanctuary gradually step 
by step? You see what is obviously the more religious thing to 
do; for you cannot think that any man who desires so great a 
possession ought to be abandoned or rejected. But don’t you 
think that he will not attain real truth otherwise than by first 
believing that he will reach his goal; then by presenting his 
mind as a suppliant; finally by purifying his life by action in 
obedience to certain great and necessary precepts? Of course 
you do. But what of those who can easily grasp divine secrets 
with certain reason? I dare say you belong to that class. Is it 
any disadvantage to them to come by the way by which those 
come who start with believing? I trow not. And yet you ask: 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 311 

Why must there be delay? Because, even if they do themselves 
no harm by by -passing faith, they harm others by their example. 
Hardly anyone thinks of himself as he ought. He who thinks too 
little of himself must be stimulated. He who thinks too much, 
must be repressed, so that the former may not be broken by 
despair, and the latter fall headlong through over-boldness. The 
easy way to effect this is to compel those who are able to fly, and 
who might be a dangerous incitement to others, to walk as is 
safe for those others. True religion provides for this very thing. 
This has been divinely commanded and handed down by our 
blessed predecessors and preserved to our own day. To want to 
disturb or pervert this practice is nothing but to seek a sacri- 
legious way to true religion. Those who do so, even if they are 
allowed to, cannot reach their goal. However they may excel in 
genius, unless God be with them, they merely crawl along the 
ground. But God is only with those who, seeking him, have also 
a care for human society. No surer step towards heaven can be 
found. How can I say that nothing is to be believed when know- 
ledge is impossible? I cannot resist the argument that there can- 
not be friendship of any kind unless something is believed which 
cannot be rationally proved. A master is not blamed for trusting 
the slaves who serve him. But in religion what can be more un- 
fair than that God’s ministers should believe us when we profess 
to be sincere but that we should be unwilling to believe them 
when they instruct us. Finally, what way can be more sound 
than first to become fit to receive the truth by believing the 
things which God has appointed for the preparation and cultiva- 
tion of the soul? Or, if you are already fitted, to follow a some- 
what round-about but entirely safe path rather than to thrust 
yourself into danger so as to be an example of rashness to 
others. 

xi, 25. It remains for us to consider why we should not follow 
men who promise to guide us by reason. We have already ex- 
plained why it is not blameworthy to follow those who bid us 
believe. But some think that it is not only not blameworthy but 
in fact praiseworthy to go to these self-styled sponsors of reason. 
It is not so. In religion two kinds of people are praiseworthy: 
those who have already found the truth, whom we must judge 
to be entirely blessed; 1 and those who seek it rightly and 
earnestly. Of these the former are already in possession. The 
latter are on the way that leads most certainly to possession. 

1 Cf. Retract. I, xiv, 2. Augustine corrects this, and says that such blessed- 
ness of possession is not possible in this life. 



312 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

There are three other classes of men who are certainly to be 
disapproved and detested. There is the opinionated kind. They 
think they know what they do not know. The second class is 
composed of those who realize that they do not know, but do 
not seek in such a way that they may find. In the third class are 
those who do not think they know and are unwilling to seek at 
all. There are also in men three mental activities, closely related 
but needing to be distinguished, viz., knowing, believing and 
holding an opinion. If these are considered in themselves the 
first is always faultless, the second is sometimes so, the third 
never. To know important, honourable, even divine things is 
perfect blessedness. To know superfluous things does no harm, 
but perhaps in learning them we waste time that should be used 
for more necessary purposes. There is no harm, even, in knowing 
harmful things, but doing or suffering them is bad. If a man 
knows how to kill his enemy without danger to himself, the 
knowledge does not make him guilty as the desire to act on it 
would. If that desire is lacking nothing could be more innocent. 
Believing is blameworthy if one believes anything unworthy of 
God or if one believes too readily in man. In other matters, if 
anyone believes anything, knowing that he does not know it, 
there is no fault committed. I believe that most wicked con- 
spirators were once put to death by the virtuous Cicero. Not 
only do I not know that, but I am quite certain that I cannot 
possibly know it. To hold an opinion is disgraceful for two 
reasons. In the first place, he who is persuaded that he already 
knows cannot learn, even if the thing in question is something 
that may be learned. And in the second place temerity in itself 
is the mark of an ill-disposed mind. Suppose someone thinks he 
knows the fact I have just mentioned about Cicero. Nothing 
prevents him from learning it, though it cannot be a matter of 
knowledge strictly speaking. But if he does not know the differ- 
ence between true knowledge, i.e., rational knowledge, and 
belief in what has been profitably handed down to posterity 
either by report or in writing, he certainly errs, and there is no 
error without disgrace. Our knowledge, therefore, we owe to 
reason; our beliefs to authority; and our opinions to error. 
Knowledge always implies belief, and so does opinion. But 
belief does not always imply knowledge, and opinion never does. 
If we, now, apply these three modes of mental activity to the 
five classes of men just mentioned, the two approved classes 
which we put first, and the three faulty ones which we put next, 
we find that the first class, the blessed, believe the very truth, 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 313 

the second, the studious lovers of truth, believe upon authority. 
The first of the faulty classes, i.e., those who are of opinion that 
they know what they do not know, exhibit faulty credulity. The 
other two classes believe nothing — both those who seek truth 
but despair of finding it, and those who do not seek at all. All 
this applies to matters pertaining to some branch of learning. 
For in practical life I just cannot see how anyone can refuse to 
believe altogether. Those who say that in action they follow 
probability prefer to say that they can know nothing rather than 
that they believe nothing. Who can approve what he does not 
believe? And what is the probable, if it is not approved? Where- 
fore, there can be two classes of opponents of truth, those who re- 
ject knowledge only, not faith, and those who condemn both. 
But whether this latter class can be found in actual life I do not 
know. I have said all this that we may know that in believing 
what we do not yet understand we escape the charge of being 
rashly opinionated. Let those who say we are to believe nothing 
but what we know beware of that charge which is a disgraceful 
and unhappy one. But if one diligently considers the difference 
between thinking one knows, and believing upon authority 
what one knows one does not know, one will avoid the charge 
of error and of boorish pride. 

xii, 26. Now I ask, if nothing which is not known is to be 
believed, how will children serve their parents and love them 
with mutual dutifulness if they do not believe that they are 
their parents. That cannot be known by reason. Who the father 
is is believed on the authority of the mother, and as to the 
mother, midwives, nurses, slaves have to be believed, for the 
mother can deceive, being herself deceived by having her son 
stolen and another put in his place. But we believe, and that 
without any hesitation, what we confess we do not know. Other- 
wise who does not see that dutifulness, the most sacred bond of 
the human race, might be violated by the most overbearing 
wickedness? Who would be so mad as to think him blameworthy 
who performed the duties due to those whom he believed to be 
his parents even if they were not his parents in reality? Who, on 
the other hand, would not think him worthy of banishment who 
did not love those who were probably his true parents on the 
ground that he feared he might love those who were not his 
parents? I could bring many instances to show that nothing 
would remain stable in human society if we determined to 
believe nothing that we could not scientifically establish. 

27. Again, let me put this to you which I trust will even more 



314 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

readily have your assent. In matters of religion, that is in the 
knowing and worshipping of God, those people are not to be 
listened to who tell us not to believe, promising to give us from 
the start a reasoned account. No one doubts that men univer- 
sally are either foolish or wise. By wise I mean not prudent and 
clever men but those who have, as far as is possible, clear and 
strongly established knowledge of God and man, and live and 
conduct themselves in a way that answers to that knowledge. 
All others, however skilled or ignorant, however excellent or 
depraved their manner of life, I put in the number of the foolish. 
If this is so, who with but moderate intelligence can fail to see 
that for the foolish it is more useful and helpful to obey the pre- 
cepts of the wise than to live by their own whims? Every deed 
wrongly done is sin. Nothing can be rightly done unless it pro- 
ceeds from right reason, and right reason is precisely virtue. 
Who then can be virtuous unless he is endowed with the mind 
of a sage? The sage alone does not sin. The fool sins in all that 
he does except when he obeys a sage, for then his actions pro- 
ceed from right reason. But he is not to be considered master of 
his actions, so to speak, seeing he is the instrument and tool, as 
it were, of the sage. Therefore, if it is better for all men not to 
sin than to sin, all foolish people would live better lives if they 
could be servants of wise men. No one doubts that this would be 
advantageous in less important matters, like trading, agricul- 
ture, marrying, begetting and educating children, in short, 
managing one’s worldly affairs; how much more in religion? 
For human affairs are more easily grasped than divine affairs; 
and in holier and more excellent things, where we owe greater 
reverence and obedience, all the more wicked and perilous is 
the sin of disobedience. You see, then, that if our heart is set 
on the good religious life, there is nothing for us so long as we 
are foolish, but to seek out wise men and to obey them, so that 
we may not suffer the domination of the folly which is in us, and 
may in time escape from it altogether. 

xiii, 28. Here again arises a most difficult question. How 
can fools find a wise man? Hardly anyone ventures to claim the 
title openly, yet many do so indirectly. Yet such is their disagree- 
ment concerning the very things knowledge of which constitutes 
wisdom, that either none of them, or at best only one of them 
can be truly wise. But which it is, I cannot see at all how the 
foolish man is to decide with any certainty. Nothing can be 
recognized by signs unless one knows the thing of which these 
are the signs; and the fool does not know wisdom. Gold and 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 


3^5 

silver and other such things may be recognized at sight even if 
one does not possess them. But wisdom cannot be seen by the 
mental eye of anyone who lacks it. Things with which we make 
contact by a bodily sense are presented to us from without, and 
with the eye we can see what belongs to another even if we do 
not ourselves possess it, or anything like it. Things intellectually 
perceived are within the mind, and possession and seeing are 
identical. The fool lacks wisdom; therefore he does not know 
wisdom. He cannot see it with his eyes. He cannot see it and at 
the same time lack it; and he cannot possess it and be at the 
same time a fool. He does not know it, and, so long as that is so, 
he cannot recognize it anywhere* So long as he remains a fool, 
no one can with absolute certainty discover a wise man, by 
obeying whom he may be delivered from the evil of his 
folly. 

29. When religion is the object of our quest God alone can 
provide a solution for this great difficulty. We ought not to be 
seeking true religion unless we believe that God is, and that he 
brings help to human minds. For what are we trying so hard to 
investigate? What do we hope to obtain? What do we desire to 
reach? Something that we do not believe exists or can possibly 
be ours? Nothing could be more perverse. In that spirit you 
would not dare to ask a favour of me, or at least it would be im- 
pertinent to do so, yet you come expecting to find religion when 
you think that God does not exist or, if he does, cares nothing 
for us. What if religion be such that it cannot be found unless it 
be sought with the utmost care and assiduity? What if the ex- 
treme difficulty of finding it exercises the mind of the seeker to 
fit it to grasp what it does find? What is more pleasant and 
familiar to the eyes than the light? Yet after long habituation to 
darkness they cannot endure it. What is more suitable for a 
body, exhausted by disease, than food and drink? Yet we see 
that convalescents are restrained and prevented from venturing 
to indulge in a satiety for which only strong men are fit, lest 
food may itself bring back the disease which caused food to be 
refused. Convalescents, I say. Don’t we urge the sick to take 
some food? Assuredly they would not try so hard to obey us 
against their inclination did they not believe that so they would 
recover from their sickness. When will you give yourself to 
diligent and laborious search, or dare to impose on yourself 
such thought and care as the thing is worthy of, unless you be- 
lieve the thing you seek actually exists? Rightly, therefore, and 
in full accord with the majesty of the Catholic discipline, it is 



316 Augustine: earlier writings 

insisted that those who come to religion must be asked to have 
faith before everything else. 

xiv, 30. What reason, then, pray, will your heretic give me? 
For, of course, we are speaking of those who desire to be styled 
Christians. Why does he ask me to refrain from believing, as if 
from some rash act? He bids me believe nothing. Very well then. 
Suppose I do not believe there is such a thing as true religion 
among men. I do not believe it exists. Therefore I do not seek 
for it. And yet, I suppose, he wants to demonstrate it to some 
inquirer. For it is written: He that seeks shall find. Unless I 
had some belief I should not come to him who forbids me to 
believe. Can there be any greater absurdity than that he should 
be displeased by my simple faith supported by no knowledge, 
when it was my simple faith that brought me to him? 

3 1 . But all heretics exhort us to believe in Christ? Could they 
be more inconsistent? Two points are to be pressed home here. 
First, I must ask them where is the promised reason, where is the 
rebuke of rashness, where the assured knowledge. If it is dis- 
graceful to believe without a reason why do you expect me and 
urge me to believe anything without reason given, so that I may 
be the more easily led by your reason? Will your reason build 
some strong edifice on a foundation of temerity? I am speaking 
like those who take offence at our believing. For my part I judge 
that believing before reasoning, if you are not able to follow 
reasoning, and cultivating the mind by faith in order to be 
ready to receive the seeds of truth, is not only most wholesome, 
but is indeed the only way by which health can return to sick 
minds. But these men impudently try to get us to believe in 
Christ though they think believing is to be derided as utterly 
rash. Again, in the second place, I confess I have come to be- 
lieve in Christ, and to hold that what he said is true, though 
supported by no reason. Are you, my fine heretic, going to lead 
me on from this starting-point? But let me consider for a moment. 
I myself did not see Christ as it was his will to be seen by men; 
for it is declared that he was seen by common eyes like mine. 
From whom did I derive my faith in him, so that I may come to 
you duly prepared by faith? I see that I owe my faith to opinion 
and report widely spread and firmly established among the 
peoples and nations of the earth, and that these peoples every- 
where observe the mysteries of the Catholic Church. Why, 
then, should I not rather ask most diligently of them what 
Christ taught, seeing that I was brought by their authority to 
believe that what he taught was profitable? Willjww indeed give 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 


317 

me a better exposition of his teaching, though I might not have 
believed you if you had urged me to believe that he once existed 
or still exists? This I have come to believe on the ground of a 
report confirmed by its ubiquity, by its antiquity, and by the 
general consent of mankind. But you are so few in numbers, so 
confused in thought, so recent in time, that no one could 
imagine that you could offer anything worthy of being received 
as authoritative. What utter absurdity! “Believe those,” you 
say, “who have taught you that Christ is to be believed; and 
then learn from us what he taught!” Why on earth should I? 
Supposing they failed me and could teach me no more, I could 
be much more easily persuaded not to believe in Christ, than to 
learn anything about him from others than those by whom I 
had been taught to believe in him. What amazing audacity or 
rather absurdity! “You believe in Christ, and I undertake to 
teach you what he taught.” But if I did not believe, you could 
teach me nothing about him, could you? “But you ought to 
believe.” On your commendation? “Oh no. We instruct by 
reasoning those who already believe in him.” Why then should 
I believe in him? “Because of firmly rooted report.” Does this 
report reach us through you or through others? “Through 
others,” So I am to believe them in order that you may teach 
me? Possibly I might, did not my friends give me special warn- 
ing to have no dealings with you at all, for they say you have 
pernicious doctrines. “They lie,” you will reply. But how am I 
to believe them about Christ whom they have not seen, and not 
believe them about you whom they could see but don’t want 
to? “Believe the Scriptures.” But if any new or unheard-of writ- 
ing is produced or commended by a handful of people without 
reasonable confirmation, we believe not it but those who pro- 
duce it. Wherefore if you, being so few and unknown, produce 
Scriptures, we are unwilling to believe. And at the same time 
you are acting contrary to your promise in demanding faith 
rather than giving a reason. You will appeal again to tradition 
and general consent. At long last restrain your obstinacy and 
your wild lust to propagate your own sect, and advise me rather 
to consult the leaders of the great mass of believers. This I shall 
do most diligently and with the greatest possible efforts, so as to 
learn something about these Scriptures from men apart from 
whom I should not know there was anything to learn. But do 
you go back to your lurking place, and lay no more snares in 
the name of truth which you are trying to take away from those 
whose authority you yourself admit. 



318 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

32. Of course, if such men deny that we are to believe in 
Christ unless some indubitable reason is given, they are not 
Christians. That is what some pagans urge against us, foolishly 
but not inconsistently. Who could allow people to profess to 
belong to Christ, who maintain that nothing is to be believed 
unless fools are offered an absolutely clear and rational doctrine 
of God? We see how Christ himself, according to the story which 
they also accept, demanded faith above everything else and 
before everything else, because those with whom he was dealing 
were not yet able to penetrate to the divine secrets. What was 
the purpose of so many great miracles? He said himself that 
they were done for no other purpose than that men should be- 
lieve in him. He led the foolish by faith; you do it by reason. 
He cried aloud that men should believe; you declaim against 
faith. He praised those who believed; you rebuke them. Would 
he have turned water into wine, to mention only one instance, if 
men would have followed him if he had merely taught them and 
done no miracle? Is that word not to be taken into account: “Ye 
believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1)? Is the man to 
be blamed for rashness who would not have the Lord come to 
his house, believing that by his bare command his boy’s sickness 
would be cured? Christ, therefore, bringing a medicine to heal 
corrupt morals, by his miracles gained authority, by his author- 
ity deserved faith, by faith drew together a multitude, thereby 
secured permanence of the tradition, which in time cor- 
roborated religion. That religion neither the foolish novelty of 
heretics working deceitfully, nor the ancient error of the nations 
in violent opposition, will avail to pluck up and destroy in any 
part. 

xv, 33. Wherefore, though I have no ability to teach, I do 
not cease to utter this warning. Many want to appear wise, and 
it is not easy to discern whether they are not in reality fools. 
Pray to God with all intensity of mind, with all your vows, with 
groans and, it may be, with tears, that he may deliver you from 
the evil of error, if your heart is set on the happy life. You will 
obtain your desire more easily if you willingly obey his precepts 
which are confirmed by the authority of the Catholic Church. 
The wise man is so closely united with God in his mind that 
nothing can come between to separate them. God is truth, and 
no one is wise if he have not truth in his mind. We cannot deny 
that man’s wisdom is a kind of intermediary placed between the 
folly of man and the pure truth of God. The wise man, so far as 
it is given to him, imitates God. The foolish man has nothing 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 319 

nearer to him for wholesome imitation than the wise man. But^ 
as has been said, it is not easy by the use of reason to know who is 
wise. Miracles must be presented to the eyes, of which fools are 
much readier to make use than of the mind, so that under the 
constraint of authority men’s lives and morals may first be puri- 
fied, and they may thus become able to follow reason. Since, 
then, there had to be a human example to imitate, and yet hope 
was not to be stayed on man, what could better show the mercy 
and generosity of God than that the pure, eternal and un- 
changeable Wisdom of God, to whom we must cleave, saw fit 
to assume human nature? Not only did he do miracles in order 
to incite us to follow God, but he also suffered those things 
which deter us from following God. No man can obtain the 
supreme and most certain good unless he fully and perfectly 
loves it; and that he cannot do so long as he fears bodily evils 
and fortuitous circumstances. By being born miraculously and 
by doing miracles he procured our love, and by dying and rising 
again he drove away our fears. In everything else he did, which 
it would take too long to recall, he showed himself such that we 
could perceive how far the divine clemency would go, and to 
what heights human infirmity could be raised. 

xvi, 34. Here is, believe me, most wholesome authority. 
Here is the preliminary raising of our minds above their earthly 
habitation. Here is conversion from love of this world to the 
true God. It is authority alone which urges fools to hasten to 
wisdom. So long as we cannot know pure truth it is misery no 
doubt to be deceived by authority; but it is certainly greater 
misery not to be moved by it. If the providence of God does not 
preside over human affairs, there is no need to worry about 
religion. But if all the best minds are urged to seek and to serve 
God, openly, as it were, by the outward appearance of the 
universe, which assuredly must be believed to emanate from 
some fountain of truest beauty, and, privately, by some inward 
consciousness, there is no need to give up the hope that God 
himself has constituted some authority relying on which as on 
a sure ladder we may rise to him. Putting aside reason, which, 
as we have often said, is difficult for fools to follow in its purity, 
this authority has two ways of appealing to us, partly by 
miracles and partly by the multitude of those who accept it. 
Neither of these is necessary for the wise man. No one denies 
that. But the problem now is how we can become wise, that is, 
how we can cleave to the truth. That, assuredly, the unclean 
mind cannot do. Uncleanness of the mind, let me briefly ex- 



320 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

plain, is love of anything besides God and the soul. The more 
pure a man is from such uncleanness the more easily does he 
behold the truth. To wish to see the truth in order that you may 
purge your soul is a perverse and preposterous idea, because it is 
precisely in order that you may see, that it has to be purged. For 
the man who is not able to behold the truth, in order that he 
may become able and allow himself to be purified, authority is 
available, making its appeal, as I have just said and as no one 
doubts, partly by miracles, and partly by the multitudes of its 
adherents. By “miracle” I mean something strange and difficult 
which exceeds the expectation and capacity of him who marvels 
at it. Among events of this kind there is nothing more suited to 
the populace, and to foolish men generally, than what appeals 
to the senses. But again there are two kinds of miracle. Some 
there are which merely cause wonder; others produce great 
gratitude and good will. If one sees a man flying one merely 
marvels, for such a thing brings no advantage to the spectator 
beyond the spectacle itself. But if one is affected by some grave 
and desperate disease and at a word of command immediately 
gets better, love of one’s healer will surpass wonder at one’s 
healing. Such things were done when God appeared to men as 
true Man, as far as was necessary. The sick were healed. Lepers 
were cleansed. To the lame the power to walk was restored; to 
the blind, sight; to the deaf, hearing. The men of that time saw 
water turned into wine; five thousand satisfied with five loaves 
of bread, waters walked upon, the dead raised. Of these 
miracles some looked to the body, conferring on it an obvious 
benefit, others looked to the mind, conveying to it a hidden sig- 
nal. But all of them had regard to men, bearing testimony to 
them of the majesty of Christ. So at that time divine authority 
drew the erring minds of mortal men towards itself. But why, 
you say, do such things not happen now? Because they would 
not affect us unless they were marvellous, and they would not be 
marvellous if they were familiar. Take the alternation of day 
and night, the unvarying order of the heavenly bodies, the 
annual return of the four seasons, the leaves falling and return- 
ing to the trees, the endless vitality of seeds, the beauty of light, 
colour, sounds, odours, the varieties of flavours. If we could 
speak to someone who saw and sensed these things for the first 
time, we should find that he was overwhelmed and dizzv at 
such miracles. But we make light of all these things, not because 
they are easy to understand — for what is more obscure than 
their causes? — but because we are continually aware of them. 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 321 

Christ’s miracles, therefore, were done at the most opportune 
moment so that a multitude of believers might be drawn to- 
gether, and that authority might be turned to profitable 
account in the interests of good morals. 

xvii, 35. Morals, of course, have a certain value in gaining 
the minds of men. But we find it easier to disapprove and detest 
wickedness, usually the result of the prevalence of lusts, than to 
abandon it or change it for the better. Do you think that too 
little regard has been paid to the human condition, in that no 
earthy or fiery object, in short no object accessible to the bodily 
senses, is to be worshipped as God? Not a few learned men have 
maintained that God is to be approached through the intellect 
alone. But unlearned folk too, male and female, in many diverse 
nations, both believe and declare this. Think of abstinence 
limiting itself to the slenderest ration of bread and water. Think 
of fasts continued not for one day only but for several days to- 
gether. Think of chastity caring not at all for marriage and off- 
spring. Think of endurance that makes light of crosses and 
flames; of liberality that distributes its patrimony to the poor; 
of contempt of this world not stopping short of a longing for 
death. What does all this mean? Few do these things. Still 
fewer do them rightly and wisely. But the populace hear and 
approve, favour and in the end love such men. They blame their 
own weakness in not being able to perform such deeds, wherein 
they show that they are not without some advancement of mind 
God-ward, some sparks of virtue. All this has divine providence 
accomplished through the predictions of the prophets, through 
the incarnation and teaching of Christ, through the journeys of 
the apostles, through the reproaches, crosses, blood and deaths 
of the martyrs, through the laudable lives of the saints, and in 
every case through miracles worthy of such achievements and 
virtues, and suitable to the various times. When, therefore, we 
see such fruit progressively realized by God’s aid, shall we 
hesitate to place ourselves in the bosom of his Church? For it 
has reached the highest pinnacle of authority, having brought 
about the conversion of the human race by the instrumentality 
of the Apostolic See and the successions of bishops. Meantime 
heretics have barked around it in vain, and have been con- 
demned partly by the judgment of the common people, partly 
by the weighty judgment of councils, partly also by the majesty 
of miracles. To be unwilling to give it the first, place is assuredly 
the mark of consummate impiety or of heady arrogance. If 
there is for souls no certain way to wisdom and salvation unless 
a . e . w . — 21 



322 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

faith prepares them for the use of reason, how is it possible to be 
more ungrateful for the help of God than to want to resist an 
authority so strongly established? Every kind of scholastic dis- 
cipline, however humble or easy to acquire, demands a teacher 
or a master if it is to be acquired. What is more rashly proud 
than to be unwilling to learn to understand the books of the 
divine oracles from their own interpreters and to be ready to 
condemn them without understanding them? 

xviii, 36. Wherefore, if my reasoning and my pleading 
affect you, and you have, as 1 trust, a true care for your own 
good, I hope you will listen to me and commit yourself in pious 
faith, keen hope and simple charity to good teachers of Catholic 
Christianity; that you will not cease to pray to God, by whose 
goodness alone we were created, by whose justice we pay the 
penalty for our sins, by whose clemency we are delivered. Thus 
you will never lack the precepts and discourses of learned men 
who are truly Christian, nor books, nor quiet thoughts, en- 
abling you easily to find what you are seeking. Abandon utterly 
those verbose and unhappy Manichees (what gentler adjectives 
could I use?) who search too much for the source of evil and 
never find anything but evil. They often stir up their hearers to 
inquire into that problem, but when they are eager they teach 
them things they ought not to hear. It would be better to be 
continually asleep than to be awake in that manner. Into the 
lethargic they instil frenzy. Both of these diseases are deadly, 
but they differ in that the lethargic die without troubling others, 
while a frenzied person is dangerous to many sane people, 
especially to those who wish to help him. God is not the Author 
of evil. He never repented of anything he had made. His mind 
is disturbed by no emotional storms. No particular part of the 
earth is his Kingdom. He neither approves nor commands any 
crimes or evil deeds. He never lies. The Manichees used to 
influence us by aggressively brandishing these truths and in- 
sinuating that the contrary was Old Testament doctrine; 
which is utterly false. I grant they were right in attacking state- 
ments which attribute evil to God. But what have I discovered? 
In attacking such statements they were not attacking Catholic 
doctrine. So I hold fast the truth I learned from them, and I 
reject the false opinion they taught me. But many other things 
the Catholic Church has taught me which these men of blood- 
less bodies and crass minds cannot aspire to teach: that God is 
not corporeal; that no part of him can be perceived by the 
bodily eyes; that none of his substance and nature is in any way 



THE USEFULNESS OF BELIEF 323 

violable or mutable, compounded or moulded to a pattern. If 
you grant me all this — and in no other way may we think of 
God — all the devices of the Manichees are brought to naught. 
How it comes to be that God neither begat nor created evil; 
that there is no nature or substance, or ever has been or will be, 
which God did not either beget or create; and that he nonethe- 
less delivers us from evil; all this can be proved by reasons so 
compelling that it is impossible to doubt it, especially for you 
and people like you, if at any rate piety and peace of mind are 
added to a good disposition. For without these spiritual quali- 
ties nothing at all can be understood of these deep matters. 
This is no story worthless as smoke, no mere Persian fable to 
which it is enough to lend an ear and a mind not subtle but 
quite puerile. Not as the Manichees have it in their folly is the 
truth. It is far, far different. But since my discourse has gone to 
much greater length than I expected, let me put an end to this 
book. You remember my purpose. I have not yet begun to 
refute the Manichees or to attack their absurdities. Nor have I 
expounded much of the Catholic Faith. I wanted only, if I could, 
to rid you of a false opinion about true Christians maliciously 
and ignorantly distilled into us, and to stimulate you to learn 
certain great divine truths. Let this book, then, be as it is. If 
your mind is somewhat placated, perhaps I shall be more ready 
to deal with the other questions. 



The Mature of the Good 


St. Augustine's Review of“De Natura BoniN 

Retractations , //, ix 

The book Of the Nature of the Good is against the Manichees. 
There it is shown that God is unchangeable by nature and is 
the supreme good, that other natures whether spiritual or cor- 
poreal derive, their existence from him, and that, so far as they 
are natures, they are good. Also it is shown what evil is, and 
whence it springs, what great evils the Manichees attribute to 
the good nature and what good things they attribute to the evil 
nature; for their error has conjured up two opposing “natures/’ 
The book begins: “The supreme good beyond all others is God.” 


324 



The Nature of the Good 

INTRODUCTION 

T he De Natura Boni , written in 404, is the 
last of the Anti-Manichaean writings, coming soon after 
the massive Contra Faustum . No special occasion for writ- 
ing is mentioned, and it seems strange that St. Augustine did 
not rather continue his refutation of the Fundamental Epistle of 
Manes, for which, he tells us, he had made some preparation. 
The fragment which survives is in some respects more interesting 
than this work, but it is already accessible in translation, and the 
De Natura Boni has interesting features of its own. 

It falls into three sections. 

A. i-xxiii. A summary but reasoned account of the Augus- 
tinian metaphysic — God, the Supreme Being and the 
Supreme Good, from whom all other beings derive existence 
and value, all being good by nature each in its degree. Evil 
is nothing but the corruption of natural good. Sin is voluntary 
and is exactly compensated by its penalty, in a perfect world. 
B. xxiv-xxxix. 'Proof of the doctrine, point by point, is adduced 
from Scripture “so that the less intelligent may believe on 
authority. 55 

G. xl-xlviii. An attempt is made to show that (1) the 
Manichees are inconsistent, attributing many good qualities 
to their “Evil Nature, 55 and many bad qualities to their 
“Good Nature. 55 (2) Manichaeism leads to certain abominable 
practices, at least so it is rumoured. Passages from the 
Thesaurus and the Fundamental Epistle of Manes are quoted to 
show that the suspicion is not without foundation in their 
authoritative writings. 


325 



The Mature of the Good 
Against the Manichees 


THE TEXT 

i. The Supreme Good beyond all others is God. It is thereby 
unchangeable good, truly eternal, truly immortal. All other 
good things derive their origin from him but are not part of him. 
That which is part of him is as he is, but the things he has 
created are not as he is. Hence if he alone is unchangeable, all 
things that he created are changeable because he made them of 
nothing. Being omnipotent he is able to make out of nothing, 
i.e., out of what has no existence at all, good things, both great 
and small, celestial and terrestrial, spiritual and corporeal. 
Because he is just, he did not make the things he made out of 
nothing to be equal to him whom he begat of himself. There- 
fore, all good things throughout all the ranks of being, whether 
great or small, can derive their being only from God. Every 
natural being, so far as it is such, is good. There can be no being 
which does not derive its existence from the most high and true 
God. All are not supremely good, but they approximate to the 
supreme good, and even the very lowest goods, which are far 
distant from the supreme good, can only derive their existence 
from the supreme good. Every mutable spirit and every cor- 
poreal thing, that is, the whole of created nature, was made by 
God, for everything that exists is either spirit or body. God is 
immutable Spirit. Mutable spirit is a created thing, but it is 
better than corporeal things. Body is not spirit, though in a 
different sense we speak of the wind as spirit because it is 
invisible to us, and yet we feel its not inconsiderable force. 

ii. There are those who cannot understand that every 
natural being, that is, every spiritual and corporeal existent, is 
good by nature. They are impressed by the wickedness of 
spirits and the mortality of bodies, and so they endeavour to 

326 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 327 

maintain that there is another nature besides that which God 
has made, viz., that of malignant spirit and mortal body. On 
their account we think that what we say can be brought to bear 
on their understanding, in this way. They admit that there can 
be no good thing save from the most high and true God. Now 
this is true and is sufficient to correct them if they will but pay 
attention. 

iii. We, Catholic Christians, worship God, from whom are 
all good things, great or small, all measure great or small, all 
form great or small, all order great or small. All things are good; 
better in proportion as they are better measured, formed and 
ordered, less good where there is less of measure, form and 
order. These three things, measure, form and order, not to men- 
tion innumerable other things which demonstrably belong to 
them, are as it were generic good things to be found in all that 
God has created, whether spirit or body. God transcends all 
measure, form and order in his creatures, not in spatial locality 
but by his unique and ineffable power from which come all 
measure, form and order. Where these three things are present 
in a high degree there are great goods. Where they are present 
in a low degree there are small goods. And where they are 
absent there is no goodness. Moreover, where these three things 
are present in a high degree there are things great by nature. 
Where they are present in a low degree there are things small 
by nature. Where they are absent there is no natural thing at 
all. Therefore, every natural existent is good. 

iv. If we ask whence comes evil, we should first ask what 
evil is. It is nothing but the corruption of natural measure, form 
or order. What is called an evil nature is a corrupt nature. If it 
were not corrupt it would be good. But even when it is cor- 
rupted, so far as it remains a natural thing, it is good. It is bad 
only so far as it is corrupted. 

v. Of course it is possible that one nature even when cor- 
rupted may still be better than another nature which has re- 
mained uncorrupted, because the one has a superior, the other 
an inferior measure, form and order. According to the estima- 
tion of men, judging by what they see before them as they look, 
corrupted gold is better than uncorrupted silver, and corrupted 
silver is better than uncorrupted lead. Among spiritual natures 
of greater potency a rational spirit, even when corrupted by an 
evil will, is better than an irrational spirit that is uncorrupted; 
and any spirit, even when corrupted, is better than any body 
even when uncorrupted. For the thing which when present 



328 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

gives life to a body is better than the body to which it gives life. 
However corrupt the created spirit of life may become, it can 
still give life to its body. Hence even when corrupted it is better 
than its body though the latter be uncorrupted. 

vi. If corruption take away from corruptible things all 
measure, form and order, nothing at all will remain in existence. 
Similarly any nature which cannot be corrupted will be the 
supreme good, as God is. Any nature which can be corrupted 
has some good in it, for corruption could not harm it except by 
taking away or diminishing what is good in it. 

vii. To his most excellent creatures, that is to rational 
spirits, God has given the power not to be corrupted if they do 
not will to be; but remain obedient under the Lord their God 
and cleave to his incorruptible beauty. But if they will not re- 
main obedient and are willingly corrupted by sin, they are un- 
willingly corrupted by penalties. God is the good, so that it can 
be well with no one who deserts him; and among his creatures 
the rational nature is so great a good that no other good save 
God can make it happy. Sinners are ordained to punishment. 
This order is contrary to their nature, and is therefore penalty. 
But it suits their fault and is therefore just. 

viii. Other things created out of nothing which are inferior 
to rational spirit can be neither happy nor miserable. Since 
they are themselves good, because of the degree of measure and 
form they possess, and since, though the good in them be 
small or even minimal, they could not have existed save by the 
act of the good God most high; they are so ordered that the 
weaker yield to the stronger, and the feebler to those that have 
greater might, and the less powerful to the more powerful. So 
terrestrial things have peace with celestial things, being as it 
were submissive to things which are more excellent than they 
are. When things pass away and others succeed them there is a 
specific beauty in the temporal order, so that those things which 
die or cease to be what they were, do not defile or disturb the 
measure, form or order of the created universe. A well-prepared 
speech is beautiful even though all its syllables and sounds pass 
in succession as if they are born and die. 

ix. The nature and quantity of the penalty due to each fault 
is determined by the judgment of God, not by that of man. 
When it is remitted to the converted, that is proof of the great 
goodness of God. When it is paid as due there is no inequity 
with God. It is a better order that a thing [ naturo ] should suffer 
punishment justly than that it should rejoice in sin with im- 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


329 

punity. So long as it retains some measure, form and order 
there is still some good in it no matter into what extremity it 
may come. If these were all together taken away and destroyed 
completely there would be no good because there would be 
nothing left. 

x. Corruptible natures would not be natures at all unless 
they derived being from God. Nor would they be corruptible 
if they were part of him. They would then be as he is. The fact 
that they have some measure, form and order is due to their 
having been created by God. And they are not immutable 
because they were made out of nothing. It is sacrilegious 
audacity to equate nothing and God as we do if we want to make 
that which he created out of nothing equal to that which is born 
of God. 

xi. No hurt whatever can be done to the divine nature, nor 
can any other nature which is less than divine be hurt unjustly. 
No doubt some people by sinning do harm unjustly. Their will 
to harm unjustly is counted against them, but the power by 
which they are permitted to do the harm comes only from God, 
who knows, though they do not, what those ought to suffer 
whom, he permits them to harm. 

xii. If those who want to introduce a nature other than that 
which God has made would only pay attention to these clear 
and certain facts, they would not be filled with such blasphemies 
as to impute so much good to the supreme evil, and to impute 
to God so many evils. As I said above, it is sufficient for their 
correction if they would only pay attention to what truth compels 
them to confess even against their will, that all good things 
come from God alone. Good things whether they are great or 
small all come from one source, that is from the supreme good, 
which is God. 

xiii. Let us, therefore, recall all the good things we can 
which are worthy to be attributed to God as their author, and 
let us see whether when they are removed anything will remain 
in existence. All life, potency, health, memory, virtue, intelli- 
gence, tranquillity, plenty, sense, light, sweetness, measure, 
beauty, peace — all these things whether great or small, and 
other similar things which may occur to one, and especially 
those things which are found universally in spiritual or cor- 
poreal existence, measure, form and order, come from the Lord 
God. Whoever willingly makes a bad use of these good things will, 
by the divine judgment, pay the penalty. But wherever none of 
them is present at all, absolutely nothing will remain in existence. 



330 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

xiv. Of these good things, if any of them is present in a 
small degree it is given a bad name to distinguish that condition 
from conditions in which it is present in a higher degree. For 
example, because there is greater beauty in the form of a man, 
by comparison with it the beauty of an ape is called deformity. 
And this misleads the unknowing. They think that the one is 
good and the other bad. They do not notice that the body of the 
ape has its own proper measure, correspondence of limbs on 
both sides, concord of all its parts, readiness in self-defence, and 
other qualities which it would take a long time to pursue. 

xv. That what we are saying may be understood and satisfy 
those whose intelligence is rather slow, or even compel the 
pertinacious who resist the most patent truth to confess the 
truth, let us ask whether corruption can harm the body of an 
ape. If it can, and the ape can become more hideous, what is 
diminished if not such beauty as it has, which is a good thing? 
So long as its body continues to exist some beauty will remain. 
So if the destruction of good implies the destruction of existence 
nature is good. We say that the slow is the opposite of the swift, 
but if anyone does not move at all he cannot be said to be slow. 
We say that a low voice is the opposite of a shrill one, or a harsh 
voice of a musical one. But if you take away completely every 
kind of sound there is silence with no sound at all. We are accus- 
tomed to contrast silence with sound as contraries for the very 
reason that silence means the absence of sound. We speak of 
clear and obscure as contraries, but obscurity may have some 
light. If it has none at all, the darkness that results from the 
complete absence of light is like the silence which is the result 
of the complete absence of sound. 

xvi. Qualitative deprivations are so ordered throughput the 
universe of nature that, for those who consider them wisely, 
their vicissitudes are not without propriety. By not causing light 
to shine on certain places and during certain times God made 
darkness quite as appropriately as day. If by keeping silent we 
interpose a suitable pause in our speech, how much more does 
he, the perfect artificer of all things, suitably and appropriately 
cause these deprivations? Hence, in the Hymn of the Three Youths , 
Light and Darkness alike praise God, that is, cause his praise 
to arise from the hearts of those who give full and right con- 
sideration to them. 

xvii. No nature is evil so far as it is naturally existent. 
Nothing is evil in anything save a diminishing of good. If the 
good is so far diminished as to be utterly consumed, just as there 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


33 1 

is no good left so there is no existence left. Not merely no such 
existence as the Manichees introduce, in which there is so much 
good that their blindness is wonderfully great, but no such 
existence as anyone can imagine. 

xviii. Not even matter which the ancients called “Hyle” is 
to be called evil. I do not mean what Manes in his stupid vanity 
ignorantly calls “Hyle,” that is to say the power that forms 
bodies. He is rightly said to be introducing a second god. None 
but God can form and create bodies. Nor are bodies created 
without measure, form and order being created with them. Now 
I imagine that even the Manichees admit that these things are 
good and can only come from God. By “Hyle” I mean matter 
completely without form and quality, out of which are formed 
the qualities we perceive, as the ancients said. Hence wood is 
called “ Hyle’ 5 in Greek, because it is suitable material for 
workmen, not that it makes anything but that something may 
be made out of it. That “Hyle 5 ’ is not to be called evil. It has no 
form by which we can perceive it. Indeed, it can hardly be con- 
ceived because it is so utterly without form. But it has the 
capacity to receive form. If it could not receive the form im- 
posed on it by the artificer it could not be called material either. 
Now if form is a good thing, so that those who have a superior 
form are called beautiful [ formosi ], doubtless even capacity for 
form is a good thing. Wisdom is a good thing, and no one doubts 
that capacity for wisdom is also a good thing. And because 
every good thing comes from God, no one should doubt that 
matter, if there is such a thing, derives its existence from God 
alone. 

xix. Gloriously and divinely our God. said to his servant: 
“I am who I am. Say to the children of Israel: He who is hath 
sent me unto you 55 (Ex. 3:14). He truly is because he is un- 
changeable. Every change causes that which was to cease to be. 
Therefore he truly is who is unchangeable. All other things 
which he made received existence from him each in its own 
degree. To him who supremely is there can be no contrary ex- 
cept that which is not. Consequently, just as all that is good 
comes from him, so from him comes all that has natural exis- 
tence, since all that has natural existence is good. Every nature 
is good, and every good thing is from God. Therefore all nature 
is from God. 

xx. Some think that pain whether in mind or body is the 
chief evil. But there cannot be pain except in things naturally 
good. For pain means that something that has been is in a sense 



332 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

striving against extinction, because what has been was good. 
When it is being compelled to become better the pain serves a 
useful purpose, otherwise it is useless. Mental pain is caused by 
the will’s resisting a greater power. Bodily pain is caused by the 
senses resisting a more powerful body. But evils that have no 
accompanying pain are worse. It is worse to rejoice in iniquity 
than to suffer in corruption. There cannot be no rejoicing except 
by acquiring inferior good things. Iniquity is the abandonment 
of the better things. In the body a wound that gives pain is 
better than a painless festering which is specifically called cor- 
ruption. The mortal flesh of our Lord did not see, i.e., suffer, 
corruption, as was foretold in the prophecy: “Thou wilt not 
give thy Holy One to see corruption” (Ps. 16:10). Who denies 
that he was wounded by the driving in of the nails and pierced 
with the spear? Take festering, which men call specifically a 
corruption of the body. Now if there is still something deep in 
the wound which it can consume, the corruption grows as good 
is diminished. But if there is nothing left to consume, there will 
be no festering since there is no good left. There will be nothing 
for corruption to corrupt; and there will be no festering, for 
there will be nothing to fester. 

xxi. Tiny little things are in the common usage of speech 
said to be moderate because some measure remains in them. 
Without that they would not even be moderate but would not 
exist at all. Things which have gone too far are called im- 
moderate and are blamed for being over-large. But even these 
must be kept within bounds under God, who has disposed all 
things by measure, number and weight. 

xxii. We may not say that God has measure, in case that 
is taken to mean that he has an end. Yet is he not without 
measure by whom measure is given to all things so that they 
may in some measure exist. On the other hand we must not say 
that God has measure, as if it were imposed upon him from else- 
where. If we call him the supreme measure we perhaps say 
something significant, at any rate if we understand the supreme 
good by what we call the supreme measure. All measure, so far 
as it is measure, is good, and we cannot speak of things as 
moderate, modest or modified without implied praise of them. 
In another sense we speak of measure as implying end, and we 
say “measureless” meaning “endless.” Sometimes that too im- 
plies praise, as in the words: “Of his kingdom there shall be no 
end” (Luke 1:33). The writer might have said “there shall be 
no measure [modus]” provided modus was understood to mean 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 333 

end [finis ] . For, of course, he who reigns in no measure [nullo 
modo =in no way] simply does not reign at all. 

xxiii. Measure, form and order are said to be bad when 
there is less of them than there ought to be. Or it may be be- 
cause they are not suited to things as they ought to be. Or they 
may be called bad because they are alien and incongruous. For 
example, someone may be said to have acted in a bad manner 
[modus] because he did less than he ought or more than he 
ought, or because he acted unsuitably or in a wrong way in the 
particular situation. The action which is blamed as having been 
done in a bad manner is justly blamed for no other reason than 
that it did not preserve modus . We speak of a form or appearance 
as being bad because it is inferior not in size but in comeliness 
when it is compared with more comely and beautiful forms. 
The reason is that it does not suit the things which wear it, and 
appears alien and unsuitable; as, for example, if a man were to 
walk naked in the market-place, an action which would give 
no offence if it took place in the baths. Likewise order is said to 
be bad when too little order is observed. It is not order but dis- 
order that is bad, where there is less order than there ought to 
be, or where such order as there is is not as it ought to be. 
Nevertheless, wherever there is some measure, form and order 
there is some good and something naturally existing. Where 
there is no measure, form or order there is neither good nor 
existence. 

xxiv. These things which we hold according to our faith, 
and which reason also demonstrates, can be fortified by testi- 
monies from the divine Scriptures, so that the less intelligent 
who cannot follow the argument may believe on divine author- 
ity, and so may deserve to reach understanding. Those who 
understand, and are less instructed in ecclesiastical sacred 
books, are not to think that we have produced them out of our 
heads, and that they are not in the Scriptures. That God is 
immutable is written thus in the Psalms: “Thou shalt change 
them and they shall be changed; but thou art the same” (Ps. 
1 02:26-27). And in the Book of Wisdom it is written of Wisdom 
itself: “Abiding in herself she reneweth all things” (Wisdom 
7:27). The apostle Paul says: “To the invisible, incorruptible, 
only wise God” (I Tim. 1:17). The apostle James writes: 
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and 
cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no 
variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Because 
the Son was not made, but all things were made through him, it 



334 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

is written: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was 
with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning 
with God. All things were made through him and without 
him nothing was made 55 (John 1:1-3). 

xxv. We are not to listen to the nonsense of men who think 
that in this passage “nothing 55 must mean something. They 
think that they can force us to this absurd and vain conclusion 
because the word nihil is put at the end of the sentence. You 
see, say they, “nothing was made, 55 and seeing it was made it is 
therefore something. They have lost all sense in their eagerness 
to contradict. They do not understand that there is no differ- 
ence between saying “without him was made nothing 55 and 
saying “without him nothing was made. 55 In either case they 
could equally well say that nothing is something because it was 
made. Take something that really exists. What difference is 
there between saying, “without him there was made a house 55 
and saying, “without him a house was made”? The point is that 
something was made without him, in this case a house. So when 
it is said: “without him was made nothing” “nothing 55 does 
not mean something, when words are truly and properly used. 
No matter where “nothing” is placed in the sentence, it makes 
nothing of a difference. Who would be willing to hold conversa- 
tion with men who when they hear the expression “nothing of 
a difference” can say: Therefore there is some difference because 
nothing is something? Those who have sound brains see quite 
clearly that my meaning is exactly the same whether I say 
“nothing of a difference” or “a difference of nothing.” And yet 
these contentious people might say to somebody, What have 
you done? and if he replied that he had done nothing, they 
might slander him, saying, You have done something because 
you have done nothing, for nothing is something. There is the 
Lord himself putting that word at the end of a sentence where 
he says: “In secret have I said nothing” (John 18:20). Let them 
read and hold their peace. 

xxvi. All things which God did not beget of himself but 
made through his Word, he made not out of things which al- 
ready existed but out of what did not exist at all, i.e., out of 
nothing. Thus the apostle says: “Who calleth those things 
which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). But it is writ- 
ten more clearly in the Book of the Maccabees. “I beseech thee, 
my child, lift thine eyes to the heaven and the earth and all that 
are therein. See and know that the things were not of which the 
Lord God made us 55 (II Maccabees 7:28). There is also what is 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


335 

written in the Psalms. “He spake and they were made” 
(Ps. 148:5). Clearly he did not beget these things of himself, 
but made them by his Word and command. What he did not 
beget he made of nothing; for there was nothing else out of 
which he might have made them. Of him the apostle says most 
openly: “Since of him and through him and in him are all 
things” (Rom. 11:36). 

xxvii. “Of him” does not have the same meaning as “out 
of him” \de ipso]. What is de ipso may also be said to be ex ipso. 
But not everything that is ex ipso can be correctly said to be de 
ipso. Of him are the heaven and the earth for he made them. 
But they are not “out of him” because they are not parts of his 
substance. If a man beget a son and make a house both are “of 
him” but the son is of his substance, the house is of earth and 
wood. This is because he is a man who cannot make anything 
of nothing. But God, of whom and through whom and in whom 
are all things, had no need of any material which he had not 
made himself, to help his omnipotence. 

xxviii. By these words “Of him and through him and in 
him are all things” we must understand all natures that 
naturally exist. For sins are not of him. They do not observe 
nature but vitiate it. In many ways Holy Scripture testifies that 
sins come from the will of the sinners; especially in that passage 
where the apostle writes: “And thinkest thou this, O man, that 
judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that 
thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the 
riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not 
knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? 
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto 
thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the 
righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man 
according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:3-6). 

xxix. Though all things which God has made are in him, 
those who sin do not defile him. Of his wisdom it is written: 
“She pervadeth all things by reason of her pureness, and 
nothing defiled can find entrance into her” (Wisdom 7:24). We 
must therefore believe God to be incapable of defilement as he 
is incapable of corruption and change. 

xxx. That God made also the lesser good things, that is, 
earthly and mortal things, may without hesitation be under- 
stood from that passage of the apostle where he speaks of 
our carnal members. “Whether one member suffer, all the 
members suffer with it; or one member be honoured all the 



336 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

members rejoice with it.” Again: “God hath set the members 
every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” And 
again: “God hath tempered the body together, having given 
more abundant honour to that part which lacked; that there 
should be no schism in the body, but that the members should 
have the same care one for the other” (I Cor. 12:18-26). This 
measure, form and order which the apostle praises in our carnal 
members can be found in the flesh of all animals both great and 
small. For flesh of all kinds is ranked among earthly goods, that 
is to say among the lowest good things. 

xxxi. The kind and magnitude of the penalty due to any 
particular sin is a matter for the judgment of God, not man. 
Therefore it is written: “O the depth of the riches both of the 
wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his 
judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 1 1 :33). That 
sins are forgiven, to those who are converted, by the goodness of 
God, is sufficiently proved by the fact that Christ was sent; who 
died on our behalf not in his divine nature but in our nature 
which he assumed of a woman. The apostle thus preaches the 
goodness and love of God towards us: “God commendeth his 
own love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ 
died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, 
shall we be saved from wrath through him. For if, while we 
were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of 
his Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by his 
life” (Rom. 5:8-10). Because there is no iniquity with God 
when sinners pay the due penalty, he writes thus: “What shall 
we say? Is God unrighteous who visiteth with wrath?” (Rom. 
3:5). In one passage he briefly indicates that there are both 
goodness and severity in God. “Behold, then, the goodness and 
severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, 
goodness, if thou continue in his goodness” (Rom. 1 1 :22). 

xxxii. That the power of those who do harm comes from 
God alone is thus stated in Scripture. It is wisdom that 
speaks: “By me kings reign, and tyrants by me rule the earth” 
(Prov. 8:15). The apostle says: “There is no power but of God” 
(Rom. 13:1). That this is rightly so, it is written in the book of 
Job: “He makes the hypocrite king on account of the perversity 
of the people” (Job 34:30, LXX). Of the people of Israel God 
says: “I have given them a king in my wrath” (Hos. 13:11). 
For it is not unjust that the wicked should receive power to harm 
so that the patience of the good should be proved and the ini- 
quity of the bad should be punished. By the power given to the 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


337 

devil Job was proved that his justice might be made apparent; 
Peter was tempted so that he might not think too highly of him- 
self; Paul was buffeted that he might not be puffed up; and 
Judas was condemned to hang himself. God himself, therefore, 
did all things justly by the power he gave to the devil. Not for 
performing these just actions, but for the wicked will to do hurt, 
which came from the devil himself, will he in the end be 
awarded punishment, when it will be said to the impious 
accomplices who have persevered in his iniquity: “Depart into 
the eternal fire which my Father hath prepared for the devil 
and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). 

xxxiii. Because the bad angels were not made bad by God 
but became bad by sinning, Peter says this in his Epistle: “God 
spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down and com- 
mitted them to pits of infernal darkness to be reserved for 
punishment in the judgment” (II Pet. 2:4). Peter thus shows 
that there is still due to them the penalty of the last judgment, 
of which the Lord says: “Depart into the eternal fire which is 
prepared for the devil and his angels.” Of course they have even 
now received as a prison by way of penalty this infernal lower 
murky air in which we live. It is indeed called heaven but it is 
not the heaven in which the stars exist, but this lower region 
whose murk piles up in clouds and where birds fly. It is also 
called the cloudy heaven, and we speak of the birds of the 
heaven. For this reason the apostle Paul calls these same wicked 
angels against whose envy we fight when we live pious lives, 
“Spiritual powers of wickedness in celestial places” (Eph. 6:12). 
And that this should not be understood to refer to the superior 
heavens, he says clearly in another passage: “According to the 
prince of the power of the air, who now worketh in the sons of 
disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). 

xxxiv. Because sin or iniquity is not a seeking of things 
evil by nature but an abandonment of the better things, this is 
found written in Scripture. “Every creature of God is good” 
(I Tim. 4:4). Every tree that God planted in paradise was good. 
Man, therefore, did not desire anything evil by nature when he 
touched the forbidden tree. But by departing from what was 
better he himself committed an act that was evil. The Creator 
is better than any of his creatures, and his command should not 
have been disobeyed by touching what was forbidden, even 
though it was good. The better was abandoned and a creaturely 
good sought which it was contrary to the command of the 
Creator to touch. God had not planted a bad tree in paradise. 

A.E.W. 22 



338 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

But he who had forbidden that tree to be touched was better 
than the tree. 

xxxv. The reason for the prohibition was to show that the 
rational soul is not in its own power but ought to be subject to 
God, and must guard the order of its salvation by obedience, or 
by disobedience be corrupted. Hence God called the tree which 
he had forbidden to be touched the Tree of the Knowledge of 
Good and Evil, because anyone who had touched it contrary to 
the prohibition would discover the penalty of sin, and so would 
be able to distinguish between the good of obedience and the 
evil of disobedience. 

xxxvi. Who could be so mad as to think that a creature of 
God, especially one planted in paradise, can be found fault 
with? Even the thorns and thistles which the earth produced 
according to the will of God in judgment, in order to afflict the 
sinner by making him labour, are not rightly to be found fault 
with. Even such herbs have measure, form and order, and any- 
one who soberly considers them will find them worthy of praise. 
But they are evil to the being who had to be disciplined in this 
way because of the fault of his sin. As I said, therefore, sin is 
not a seeking of something evil by nature, but an abandonment 
of what is better. So the deed is the evil thing, not the thing of 
which the sinner makes an evil use. Evil is making a bad use 
of a good thing. Hence the apostle reproaches some whom the 
divine judgment has condemned, who worshipped and served 
the creature rather than the Creator. He does not find fault 
with the creature, for, whoever does that, does injustice to the 
Creator, but he reproaches those who have abandoned the 
better thing and made a bad use of a good thing. 

xxxvii. If all natural things would preserve their proper 
measure, form and order, there would be no evil. But if anyone 
willingly makes a bad use of these good things, he cannot over- 
come the will of God, who knows how to subject even the unjust 
to a just order. If they by the wickedness of their wills have made 
a bad use of his good things, he by the justice of his power makes 
a good use of their evil deeds, rightly ordaining them to punish- 
ment who have perversely ordained themselves to sin. 

xxxviii. Even the eternal fire which is to torment the im- 
pious is not an evil thing. It has its own measure, form and 
order, debased by no iniquity. But torment is evil to the damned 
for whose sins it is the due reward. Nor is light an evil thing 
because it hurts the weak-eyed. 

xxxix. The eternal fire is not eternal as God is, for though 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


339 

it is without end it is not without beginning. God has no begin- 
ning. Again, though it is applied perpetually to the punishment 
of sinners, it is nonetheless mutable by nature. God alone has 
true eternity, true immortality and absolute immutability, for 
he cannot be changed at all. It is one thing not to be changed 
when there is a possibility of change; quite another when there 
is no such possibility. A man is said to be good, but not as God is, 
of whom it is said: “None is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). 
The soul is said to be immortal, but not as God is, of whom it is 
said: “He alone hath immortality” (I Tim. 6:16). A man is said 
to be wise, but not as God is, of whom it is said: “To the only 
wise God” (Rom. 16:27). So the fire is said to be eternal, but not 
as God is whose immortality alone is true eternity. 

xl. Since these things are so according to the Catholic faith 
and sound doctrine, and also according to truth as it is clear to 
those who have understanding, none can harm the divine 
nature; the divine nature can inflict harm on no one unjustly, 
nor suffer anyone to do harm and to go unpunished. “He who 
doeth hurt,” says the apostle, “shall receive again for the hurt 
he hath done; and there is no respect of persons with God” 
(Col. 3:25). 

xli. If the Manichees would think of these things in the fear 
of God and without the pernicious desire to defend their error, 
they would not blaspheme most wickedly by introducing two 
natures, one good which they call God, and the other evil which 
God did not make. So great is their error, silliness, and indeed 
madness, that they cannot see what they are doing. In effect 
they attribute to what they call the supreme evil by nature all 
these great good things: life, potency, safety, memory, intelli- 
gence, moderation, virtue, plenty, sensation, light, sweetness, 
dimension, numbers, peace, measure, form and order. And to 
the supreme good they attribute these great evils: death, sick- 
ness, forgetfulness, madness, perturbation, impotence, needi- 
ness, stupidity, blindness, pain, iniquity, dishonour, war, lack 
of moderation, deformity, perversity. They tell us that the 
princes of darkness lived in their natural element, and were safe 
in their kingdom, and had both memory and intelligence. At 
any rate they tell us that the prince of darkness made a speech 
such as he could not have made, and such as his hearers could 
not have listened to, unless they had memory and intelligence. 
These powers of darkness, we are told, had suitably tempered 
minds and bodies, and reigned in mighty potency. They were 
plentifully supplied with all their elements, and could perceive 



340 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

themselves and the light which was their neighbour. They had 
eyes wherewith to see it afar off. Now eyes without some light 
in them could not have seen light. That is why eyes are rightly 
called luminaries. They enjoyed their pleasures sweetly. Their 
limbs were well-proportioned and their dwellings well-planned. 
At any rate unless there was some kind of beauty they would not 
have loved their marriages, nor would their bodies have con- 
sisted of parts that harmonized; and without that the events 
recorded in the silly tale could not have taken place. If they had 
no peace of any kind they would not have obeyed their prince. 
If they had no measure, they would do nothing but eat and 
drink and play the savage and act in other unsocial ways. Even 
so, they would not have been determined by their particular 
forms unless they had some kind of measure. As it is, we are told 
that they performed such actions that there is no denying them 
fitting measure. If there were no form there would be no natural 
quality. If there were no order there would not be some ruling 
and others ruled; they would not live harmoniously with their 
elements; in short their limbs would not be arranged in their 
fitting places, as is assumed by the vain Manichee fable. On the 
other hand, on their vain showing, the divine nature is dead 
and Christ resuscitates it. It is sick and he heals it. It is forgetful 
and he brings it to remembrance. It is foolish and he teaches it. 
It is disturbed and he makes it whole again. It is conquered and 
captive and he sets it free. It is in poverty and need, and he aids 
it. It has lost feeling and he quickens it. It is blinded and he 
illumines it. It is in pain and he restores it. It is iniquitous and 
by his precepts he corrects it. It is dishonoured and he cleanses 
it. It is at war and he promises it peace. It is unbridled and he 
imposes the restraint of law. It is deformed and he reforms it. 
It is perverse and he puts it right. All these things, they tell us, 
are done by Christ not for something that was made by God and 
became distorted by sinning by its own free will, but for the very 
nature and substance of God, for something that is as God is. 

xlii. What can be compared to blasphemies such as these? 
Nothing at all, if you consider the errors of other perverse sects. 
Nay, if you compare the error we have been describing with 
another Manichee error, which we have not yet mentioned, that 
sect will be proved to allege still worse and more execrable 
blasphemies against the divine nature. They tell us that certain 
souls, parts of the substance of God and sharers in the divine 
nature, as they will have it, went down, not of their own accord 
but at the command of their Father, to fight against the race of 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 


341 

darkness, which the Manichees call the evil nature; that they 
were defeated and taken captive and were imprisoned for ever 
in a horrible sphere of darkness. These souls, of course, did not 
sin voluntarily. In this way, according to their vain profane 
babbling, God freed part of himself from a great evil, but con- 
demned another part of himself which he could not liberate from 
the enemy, and yet celebrated a triumph as if the enemy had 
been defeated. What wicked and incredible audacity to say or 
believe or proclaim such things about God! When they try to 
defend this they fall with closed eyes into worse error. For they 
say that mixing with the evil nature causes the good divine 
nature to undergo such evils; by itself it cannot and could not 
have suffered the like. As if an incorruptible nature is to be 
praised because it does itself no harm, and not because nothing 
else can harm it. Now, if natural darkness harmed the divine 
nature, and the divine nature harmed natural darkness, the 
fact that they did each other harm mutually means that there 
are two evils. But the race of darkness was of a better mind, for 
if it did harm it did it unwillingly. It did not wish to harm the 
divine good but to enjoy it. God wanted to blot out his enemy 
as Manes vapours most openly in his deadly Fundamental 
Epistle . Forgetting what he had written a little earlier — “His 
glorious realms are founded upon a bright and blessed earth so 
that they can never be either moved or shaken by anyone” — he 
goes on to say, “The Father of most blessed light knew that a 
great destruction and devastation, arising from the realm of 
darkness, was threatening his holy realms unless some excellent 
brilliant and mighty divine power should intervene to overcome 
and at the same time destroy the stock of darkness. If that were 
blotted out perpetual rest would be achieved for the inhabitants 
of the realm of light.” You see, he feared destruction and de- 
vastation threatening his realms. And yet they were founded 
upon a bright and blessed earth so that none could ever move or 
shake them! Because of this fear he determined to harm a 
neighbouring race and tried to destroy it and blot it out, so that 
perpetual rest might be achieved for the inhabitants of the 
realm of light. Why did he not add “and a perpetual prison”? 
Were not those souls whom he imprisoned for ever in a sphere of 
darkness also inhabitants of the realm of light? Of them he 
openly says, “They endured exile from their former bright 
nature.” There he is forced against his will to say that they 
sinned by their free will, though he will not allow sin to be ex- 
plained except as due to necessity imposed by the contrary evil 



342 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

nature. He does not know what he is talking about, and is as if 
he were himself shut up in his imaginary sphere of darkness, 
seeking for a way out and not finding one. Let him say what he 
tikes to the miserable followers whom he has seduced, by whom 
he is much more highly honoured than Christ is; so that in 
return for this honour he sells them his long and profane fables. 
Let him say what he likes. Let him shut up the race of darkness 
in a sphere as in a prison, and hem it in with light to which he 
promised perpetual rest when the enemy was blotted out. The 
penalty suffered by light is worse than that suffered by darkness. 
The penalty suffered by the divine nature is worse than that 
suffered by the hostile race. No doubt the latter is all darkness 
within, but then it was natural for it to inhabit darkness. But 
the souls which are of the same nature as God will not be able, 
he says, to be taken back into the peaceful realms. They will be 
exiled from the life and liberty of holy light, and will be im- 
prisoned in the aforesaid horrible sphere. And so, he says, “these 
souls will cleave to the things they have loved, abandoned in the 
sphere of darkness, procuring for themselves this fate by their 
deserts.” Is not that freedom of the will, with a vengeance? You 
see how the raving man does not know what he is talking about. 
By contradicting himself he wages a worse war against himself 
than against the God of the race of darkness itself. Moreover, if 
souls that belong to light are condemned because they loved 
darkness, the race of darkness is unjustly condemned, for it loved 
the light. The race of darkness loved the light from the begin- 
ning. It did not want to blot it out, but to take possession of it, 
albeit by violence. The race of light determined to blot out the 
darkness by war, but when defeated came to love darkness. 
Choose which you will. Either it was compelled by necessity to 
love darkness or it was voluntarily seduced. If it was by neces- 
sity, why is it condemned? If voluntarily, why is the divine 
nature caught in such iniquity? If the divine nature is compelled 
by necessity to love darkness, it is vanquished, not victorious. 
If it loves darkness voluntarily, why do these miserable people 
hesitate to attribute the will to sin to a being which God made 
out of nothing rather than to attribute it to the light which he 
begat? 

xliii. If, moreover, we show that even before its fabulous 
admixture with evil, which they have imagined and foolishly 
believe, there were great evils in the very nature of light, as they 
call it, how will it seem possible to add to their blasphemies? 
Before the battle against darkness took place there was for the 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 343 

light the grim and inevitable necessity of fighting. There is a 
great evil that existed before evil was mixed with good. Where 
did that come from, seeing there was as yet no admixture? If 
there was no necessity to fight but the will was there, whence 
came that great evil that God was willing to harm his own 
nature which could not have been harmed by the enemy, by 
sending it to be cruelly embroiled, shamefully tempted and un- 
justly condemned? How vast an evil is a will at once pernicious, 
deadly and cruel, before there was any admixture of evil from 
the hostile race! Did he perhaps not know that this would happen 
to his members; that they would come to love darkness and be- 
come enemies of the holy light, as Manes says, that is, enemies 
not only of their God but also of the Father from whom they 
sprang? Whence came this great evil in God that he should be 
thus ignorant, before there was any admixture of evil from the 
hostile race? If he knew it would happen, either there was 
eternal cruelty in him, if he had no grief for the coming defile- 
ment and damnation of his nature, or eternal misery, if he did 
grieve. Whence came this great evil in your supreme good, before 
there was any admixture of your supreme evil? If the particle 
of the divine nature which is held fast in the eternal prison of 
the afore-mentioned sphere, did not know that this fate was 
threatening it, even so there was eternal ignorance in the 
divine nature. If it did know, there was eternal misery. Whence 
came that great evil before there was any admixture of evil from 
the hostile race? Perchance it was filled with such charity that 
it rejoiced because through its punishment perpetual rest was 
achieved for the other inhabitants of light? Let him anathema- 
tize this suggestion who sees how impious it is to make it. If the 
particle of the divine nature did indeed behave in this way, and 
did not become hostile to the light, perhaps it could be praised 
not as divine but as a man might be praised who was willing to 
suffer some evil for his country. But that evil could only be for a 
time not for eternity. But they say that the imprisonment in the 
sphere of darkness was eternal, and that it was the divine nature 
that was so imprisoned, nothing less. It would surely be a most 
iniquitous, execrable and unspeakably sacrilegious joy if the 
divine nature should rejoice in loving darkness and becoming 
the enemy of the holy light. Whence came this gross and wicked 
evil before there was any admixture of evil from the hostile 
race? Who could endure such perverse and impious folly as to 
attribute so much good to the supreme evil, and so much evil 
to the supreme good, which is God? 



344 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

xliv. They say that this part of the divine nature permeates 
all things in heaven and earth and under the earth; that it is 
found in all bodies, dry and moist, in all kinds of flesh, and in 
all seeds of trees, herbs, men and animals. But they do not say 
of it, as we say of God, that it is present untrammelled, un- 
polluted, inviolate, incorruptible, administering and governing 
all things. On the contrary, they say that it is bound, oppressed, 
polluted but that it can be released and set free and cleansed 
not only by the courses of the sun and moon and powers of light, 
but also by their elect. To what sacrilegious and incredible 
shame this kind of nefarious error urges, if it does not persuade, 
them, it is horrible to relate. They say that the powers of light 
are transformed into beautiful males who are set before women 
of the race of darkness, while others are transformed into beau- 
tiful women who are set before males of the race of darkness. 
By their beauty they inflame the unclean lust of the princes of 
darkness. Thus the vital substance, i.e., the divine nature, which 
they say is held bound in their bodies, escapes from their mem- 
bers when they are relaxed in concupiscence, and is thus re- 
leased, purged and set free. This is what these unhappy folk 
read and say and hear and believe. This is set down in the 
seventh book of their Thesaurus, the name they give to a certain 
writing of Manes where these blasphemies are written. “Then 
the blessed Father, who has shining ships as dwellings or lodging 
places, in his clemency brings aid to set his vital substance free 
from the impious bonds and straits and torments in which it is 
held. By his invisible nod he transforms his powers which he has 
in his shining ship, and causes them to show themselves to the 
adverse powers which are set in the different parts of the 
heavens. These are of both sexes, male and female. Hence he 
makes the aforesaid powers appear partly in the shape of beard- 
less boys to women of the adverse race, partly in the shape of 
fair virgins to males of the opposite race. He knows that all 
these hostile powers are easily taken in because of the deadly 
unclean lust that is congenital to them, and will yield to the 
beautiful forms they see, and will so be dissolved. Know that our 
blessed Father is identical with these powers of his, which for a 
necessary purpose he transforms into the undefiled likeness of 
boys and virgins. He uses these as his proper instruments, and 
by them accomplishes his will. The shining ships are full of these 
divine powers which are set over against members of the infernal 
race as in a kind of marriage. Quickly and easily, in a moment, 
they achieve their purpose. When reason demands that they 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 345 

should appear to males they show themselves in the form of 
beautiful virgins. Again, when they have to come to women they 
put off the appearance of virgins and take on that of beardless 
boys. At the comely sight ardour and concupiscence grow, and 
the prison of evil thoughts is broken, and the living soul which 
was held bound in their members is released and escapes and 
mingles with the purest air which is its native element. Souls 
that are completely purified board the shining ships which are 
prepared to carry them away and to transport them to their 
fatherland. Anyone who still shows the taint of the adverse race 
goes down step by step through fiery heat, gets mixed up with 
trees and plants and the like and is stained with divers colours. 
Out of that great shining ship the figures of boys and virgins 
appear to the hostile powers whose home is in the heavens and 
whose nature is fiery. At the fair sight the part of life which is 
held bound in their members is released and brought down by 
heat to earth. In the same way the highest power, that inhabits 
the ship of vital waters, appears by means of his messengers in 
the shape of boys and holy virgins to the powers whose nature 
is cold and moist, which also are set in the heavens. To those 
which are female it appears in the form of boys, and to males in 
the form of virgins. By this diversity of divine and beautiful 
forms the princes of cold and moist stock, whether male or 
female, are brought to naught and the vital element in them 
escapes. What remains is brought down to earth by cold and is 
mingled with all the species of earth . 55 Who could bear stuff of 
this kind? Who could believe, I do not say, that it is true, but 
that it could even be spoken? Fancy anyone afraid to anathe- 
matize the teaching of Manes and not afraid to believe that 
God could do or suffer anything like that! 

xlv. They tell us that the part of the divine nature that is 
mixed with evil is purged by their elect, by eating and drinking, 
forsooth. For they say it is held bound in all foods, and when 
these are consumed by the holy elect who eat and drink them 
for the refreshment of their bodies, the divine nature is released, 
sealed and set free. The miserable people do not notice that it is 
vain for them to deny what is, not surprisingly, believed about 
them, if they will not anathematize these books and cease to be 
Manichees. For if, as they say, there is a part of God bound in 
all seeds, which is purged by the elect by eating them, who 
would not in all good faith believe that they do what is done by the 
celestial powers and the princes of darkness according to their 
Thesaurus, and especially as they say that their flesh belongs to 



346 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

the race of darkness, and do not hesitate to believe and affirm 
that the vital substance, a part of God, is held bound there too? 
If it is to be released and purged by eating, as their deadly error 
forces them to admit, who does not see and abominate the awful 
and nefarious baseness that must ensue? 

xlvi. They say that Adam, the first man, was created by 
certain of the princes of darkness so that the light might not 
escape from them. In the Epistle which they call Fundamental , 
Manes has described how the prince of darkness, whom they 
introduce as the father of the first man, addressed the other 
princes of darkness, his associates; and how he acted. “With 
wicked fabrications he addressed those who were present saying: 
What do you think about this great light that arises. You see 
how it moves the heavens and shakes the greatest powers. It is 
better, therefore, for you to give up to me the portion of light 
which you have in your power. Thus I shall make an image of 
the great one who has appeared gloriously, so that we shall be 
able to reign free at last from our dark way of life. Hearing this 
they had long deliberation, and thought it right to give what 
was demanded. They did not think that otherwise they would 
be able to keep the light under their yoke. So they thought it 
better to offer it to their prince, in good hope that in this way 
they would continue to reign. We must consider how they gave 
up the light they had. The truth is scattered over all the divine 
scriptures and the celestial secret documents, but it is not diffi- 
cult to learn how it is given to the wise to know it. It is known 
openly and face to face by whosoever will behold it truly and 
faithfully. The multitude of those who had assembled was 
mixed, including both males and females, so he drove them to 
have intercourse. . . . Their offspring resembled their parents, 
obtaining all their great powers. Their prince rejoiced in these 
as an outstanding gift and consumed them. As we see it hap- 
pening even now, the evil nature that forms bodies draws its 
power to make forms from this source; so the aforesaid prince 
accepted the offspring of his companions with all the sense and 
prudence they derived from their parents, together with the 
light that had been transmitted to them at birth, and ate them 
up. From that food he acquired many powers, among which 
was not only fortitude but, much more, astuteness and bad 
feeling derived from the savage race of their parents. Then he 
called to himself his own wife, who came of the same stock as he 
did, and, as the others had done, he sowed the multitude of 
evils which he had devoured, and added something of his own 



THE NATURE OF THE GOOD 347 

thought and power, so that his sense formed and marked out all 
that he poured forth. His wife received this as well-tilled earth 
is wont to receive seed, for in her were constructed and knit 
together the images of all the celestial and terrestrial powers, 
that what was formed should have the likeness of the whole 
world.” 

xlvii. O monstrous crime! O execrable destruction and 
rottenness of souls deceived! I will not say how horrible it is to 
say that the divine nature is thus bound. Let those who are 
grievously deceived and poisoned with this deadly error notice 
this. They profess that part of God can be released and purged 
by eating. But if it is bound by the intercourse of male and 
female, by necessity this horrible error compels them to release 
it not only from bread, vegetables and apples, which are the 
only things they appear in public to accept; but they must also 
release and purge the part of God by sexual intercourse, if it has 
been conceived in the womb, and can be bound there. Some are 
said to have confessed in a public tribunal that they have done 
this, not only in Paphlagonia but even in Gaul, as I heard from 
a Catholic Christian at Rome. When they are asked by what 
written authority they do these things, I hear they produce the 
passage from the Thesaurus which I quoted a moment ago. 
When this charge is made against them they are accustomed to 
reply that one of their number, that is one of the elect, broke 
away and made a schism and founded this foul heresy. So it is 
quite clear that though some of them may not behave in that 
way, those who do, get the idea from their books. Let them then 
throw away these books if they abhor the crime, which they are 
urged to commit if they retain the books. If they do not commit 
it they try to live cleanly, contrary to the teaching of the books. 
What do they do when we say to them: Either purge out the 
light from as many seeds as you can, and don’t refuse to do what 
you assert you do not do; or anathematize Manes who says that 
in all seeds there is a part of God and that it is bound in sexual 
intercourse, and that the portion of light, i.e., a part of God, 
which comes as food for the elect, is purged when they eat it? 
You see what he is persuading you to do, and yet you still 
hesitate to anathematize him. What do they do, I say, when we 
say this to them? To what subterfuges they resort! Either they 
must anathematize such nefarious doctrine, or they must behave 
in such a wickedly shameful way that by comparison all the 
evils they attribute to the divine nature, which I have just said 
were intolerable, must seem tolerable: I mean, that it was 



348 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

compelled to wage war; that it was secure in eternal ignorance, 
or troubled by eternal grief and fear when the corruption of ad- 
mixture with evil came upon it and the prison of eternal damna- 
tion; that when the war had been waged it was taken captive, 
oppressed and polluted; and that after a false victory had been 
gained, it was to live for ever fixed in a horrible sphere separated 
from its original felicity. By comparison with the moral obli- 
quities taught or practised by the Manichees, these doctrinal 
errors must seem tolerable, even though, considered in them- 
selves, they are not to be endured. 

xlviii. How great is thy patience, O merciful and com- 
passionate Lord, long-suffering, very pitiful and true, who 
causest thy sun to rise upon the good and the evil, and causest 
the rain to fall on the just and the unjust; who desirest not the 
death of the sinner but rather that he be converted and live; 
who chidest little by little and givest place for penitence, so 
that men may give up their evil and believe in thee, Lord; who 
by thy patience dost bring men to penitence, though many 
according to their hard and impenitent heart heap up for them- 
selves wrath in the day of wrath, and of the revelation of thy 
just judgment when thou renderest to every man according to 
his works; who forgettest all the iniquities of man in the day 
when he is converted from his wickedness to thy mercy and 
truth. Grant us the gift that by our ministry, whereby thou hast 
willed that this execrable and utterly horrible error should be 
refuted, others may be set free as many have already been. May 
they deserve to receive remission of the sins and blasphemies 
wherewith in ignorance they have offended thee, whether 
through the sacrament of thy Baptism, or through the sacrifice 
of a broken spirit and a contrite humbled heart, in penitential 
sorrow. Such power has thy almighty mercy, thy authority, the 
truth of thy Baptism, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven 
given to thy Holy Church, that there is no need to despair even 
of such men so long as by thy patience they dwell upon the 
earth; especially those who know how evil it is to think or speak 
such things of thee, and yet are kept in that malignant profession 
because of some temporal and earthly advantage which they are 
accustomed to enjoy, or hope to obtain; if only they will accept 
thy correction and fly for refuge to thy ineffable goodness, and 
to all the enticements of the carnal life will prefer life celestial 
and eternal. 



Faith and the Creed 


SL Augustine's Review of “Faith and the Creed ' 9 

Retractations , /, xvii 

About the same time while still a presbyter I discoursed con- 
cerning Faith and the Creed in the presence and at the bidding of 
the bishops who were holding a plenary Council of the whole 
African Church at Hippo-regius. At the earnest request of 
several of them who were on specially friendly terms with me, I 
wrote down my discourse in a book. I spoke of the articles of the 
faith but not in the exact terms in which they are delivered to 
Competents to be retained in the memory. When I was dealing 
with the resurrection of the flesh in that book I said, “ According 
to the Christian Faith, which is infallible, the body will rise 
again. Whoever thinks that incredible is paying attention to the 
flesh as it now is, and does not consider it as it will be. For in the 
time of angelic change there will be no more flesh and blood, 
but body only . 55 That, and all that I said about the transforma- 
tion of terrestrial into celestial bodies, I based on the apostle’s 
words: “Flesh and blood shall not possess the kingdom of God.” 
But if anyone concludes from that that the earthly body we now 
have is changed into a celestial body by the resurrection in such 
a way that it will not have its members as at present, and that 
there will be no fleshly substance, without doubt he is to be 
corrected by the example of the Lord’s body. For not only was 
he visible with the same members after the resurrection, but he 
could be touched; and he verbally confirmed the fact that he 
had flesh, saying, “Handle me and see; for a spirit hath not 
flesh and bones as ye behold me having.” Clearly, the apostle 
did not mean to deny that there would be the substance of 
flesh in the kingdom of God, but meant by the terms “flesh and 
blood,” either men who live after the flesh, or corrupt flesh, of 
which of course there wall be none then. When he said that 

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350 

“flesh and blood shall not possess the kingdom of God 55 he can 
perfectly well be understood as explaining what he immediately 
added: “Neither shall corruption possess incorruption . 5 5 It is 
difficult to persuade unbelievers as to this; but whoever will 
read the last book of the De Civitate Dei will find that I have 
dealt with it as carefully as I could. 



Faith and the Creed 

INTRODUCTION 

T he plenary Council of the African Church 
mentioned above was held at Hippo in October 393, 
doubtless summoned and presided over by Aurelius, who 
in 390 had become Bishop of Carthage. In 391 the new primate 
had written to St. Augustine, then recently ordained, and the 
latter’s reply is extant ( Epist . 22). From this we gather that the 
two men were already on the most friendly terms, and were of 
one mind as to reforms necessary in the African Church. Indeed 
it might appear that it was the presbyter who suggested to the 
primate the desirability of holding a reforming Council. If he 
did not specifically offer Hippo as its venue, he at least gave 
Aurelius to understand that the Bishop of Hippo would willingly 
support him. This correspondence shows that already St. 
Augustine’s importance was widely recognized, and this would 
account for the remarkable fact that he, a presbyter and a 
recent one at that, was invited to address the bishops on so im- 
portant a theme. Indeed the Christians of Hippo were already 
in fear lest some vacant church might call him away to be its 
bishop. 

The discourse is a plain, straightforward exposition of the 
Creed, article by article, with a defence of its doctrine, when 
called for, against the philosophers, the heretics (Sabellians, 
Arians, Apollinarians and Manichees) and the schismatics 
(Novatianists and Donatists). The tenets of these sects are 
briefly described and repelled, but their names are not men- 
tioned. Some of the articles of the Creed are very briefly 
handled, but some are dealt with at length and very interest- 
ingly. For example: The Omnipotence of God the Father 
Almighty (2); The Divinity of the Word (3-7); The Temporal 

351 



352 AUGUSTINE! EARLIER WRITINGS 

Dispensation for man’s salvation; the Incarnation and the 
Virgin Birth (8-12); The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (16-20); 
The Resurrection of the Flesh (23-24). The opening chapter 
briefly explains the use of the Creed* and its relation to 
theology. 



Faith and the Creed 

THE TEXT 

i, i. It is written and confirmed by the strong authority of 
apostolic teaching that the just shall live by faith. And faith 
imposes on us a duty to be fulfilled both by the heart and by the 
tongue. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and 
with the mouth confession is made unto salvation 55 (Rom. 
10: io). We must therefore be mindful both of righteousness and 
of salvation. Though we are to reign hereafter in eternal 
righteousness, we cannot be saved from the present evil age un- 
less, earnestly seeking the salvation of our neighbours, we profess 
with the mouth the faith which we hold in our heart. We must 
see to it with careful and pious vigilance that that faith shall 
not be violated in any way for us by the fraudulent craft of the 
heretics. But the Catholic Faith is made known to the faithful 
in the Creed, and is committed to memory, in as short a form 
as so great a matter permits. In this way for beginners and suck- 
lings, who have been reborn in Christ but have not yet been 
strengthened by diligent and spiritual study and understanding 
of the divine Scriptures, there has been drawn up in few words 
a formula they must accept in faith, setting forth what would 
have to be expounded in many words to those who are making 
progress and are raising themselves up to attain the divine doc- 
trine in the assured strength of humility and charity. Under 
colour of the few words drawn up in the Creed many heretics 
have endeavoured to conceal their poison. But the divine mercy 
withstands and resists them by the instrumentality of spiritual 
men, whose merit has permitted them not only to receive and 
believe the Catholic Faith as expressed in these words, but also 
to know and understand it by revelation from God. It is written 
“Except ye believe ye shall not understand 55 (Isa. 7:9, LXX). 
a.e.w.— 23 353 



354 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

But the exposition of the Faith serves to fortify the Creed, not 
that it is given to be committed to memory or repeated instead 
of the Creed by those who obtain the grace of God. But it 
guards the things contained in the Creed against the wiles of 
heretics with full Catholic authority and with a stronger 
defence. 

ii, 2. Some have endeavoured to argue that God the Father 
is not omnipotent. Not indeed that they have ventured to put 
it in that way, but their teaching proves that this is their 
opinion and belief. When they say that there is something which 
God omnipotent did not create, but of which he made the 
world, beautifully ordered as they admit, they so far deny that 
God is omnipotent in that they believe he could not have made 
the world unless, in making it, he had used a material which 
already existed and which he had not made. They base their 
argument on the ordinary carnal observation that smiths and 
builders and other workmen cannot put their art into effect 
without the aid of material already to hand. So they understand 
that the maker of the world is not omnipotent, if he could not 
have made the world without the aid of some kind of material 
which he had not himself made. If they admit that the world 
was made by an omnipotent God they must admit that he made 
what he has made out of nothing. If he were omnipotent there 
could be nothing of which he was not the Creator. Even if he 
did make something out of something else, as he made man out 
of clay, he did not make it out of something which he had not 
himself made. For he made the earth out of nothing, and clay 
comes from the earth. If he made the heaven and the earth, 
i.e., the world and all it contains, out of some matter — as it is 
written: Thou didst create the world out of invisible, or even, as 
some copies read, formless matter (Wisdom 11:17) — we must 
by no means believe that the matter out of which the world was 
made, however formless or invisible, could have existed as it 
was by itself, as if it were co-eternal and coeval with God. 
Only from God omnipotent did it receive whatever mode of 
being it had, and whatever potentiality it had to receive other 
different forms. For it is by his gift that any formed thing not 
only has its being but even is capable of receiving form. There 
is this difference between what is formed and what is capable of 
receiving form. That which is formed has already received form. 
That which is “formable” is capable of receiving form. He 
who gives form to things also gives capacity for form, for from 
him and in him is the unchangeable form which is the highest 



FAITH AND THE CREED 355 

form of all. He is one, who has given to everything not only its 
beauty but also its power to be beautiful. Most correctly, there- 
fore, do we believe that God has made all things of nothing; for 
if the world was made out of matter, matter itself was made of 
nothing, to be, by God’s gift and appointment, the primal 
“formable” substance from which all that has form should be 
formed. We have said this in order that no one should suppose 
that Scripture contradicts itself when it says, in one place, that 
God made all things of nothing, and in another, that the world 
was made of formless matter. 

3. Accordingly, believing in God the Father Almighty we ought 
to believe that there is no creature which has not been created 
by his omnipotence. Moreover, because he created all things 
through his Word which is also called the Power and Wisdom of 
God, and is hinted at by many other titles which commend the 
Lord Jesus Christ to our faith as the Son of God, our Saviour 
and ruler; and because none could generate the Word by whom 
all things are made save he who made all things through him; 
iii. we also believe in Jesus Christ our Lord , the Only Son of God , 
Only-begotten of the Father. We must not think that the Word is 
like our words which proceed from our mouths and are passed 
on by vibrations in the air and abide no longer than the sound 
of them remains. That Word abides unchangeable. For of him 
Scripture says, speaking of wisdom: “Remaining in herself she 
reneweth all things” (Wisdom 7:27). He is called the Word also 
because through him the Father is made known. For as by our 
words, when we speak truly, our mind lets him who hears them 
know something, and by signs of that kind brings to the know- 
ledge of another what we hold secretly in our heart, so wisdom 
whom God the Father begat is most appropriately called his 
Word, because through him the Father who dwells in utmost 
secrecy becomes known to worthy minds. 

4. But there is a vast difference between our minds and the 
words with which we try to show what is in our minds. We do 
not beget verbal sounds but make them; and in making them 
we make use of the body as material. Now there is a great dif- 
ference between mind and body. When God begat the Word, 
the Begetter was “he who is.” He did not make the Word out of 
nothing nor out of any ready-made material but from his 
eternal nature. This is what we, too, try to do when we speak 
the truth, though not when we lie, if we closely consider the 
purpose we have in mind in speaking. What else are we trying 
to do but to bring our mind, as far as it can be done, into contact 



356 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

with the mind of him who listens to us, so that he may know 
and understand it? We remain in ourselves and take no step 
outside ourselves, but we produce a token whereby there may 
be knowledge of us in another; so that, if opportunity is 
afforded, one mind, as it were, produces another mind to indi- 
cate its meaning. We do this with words and sounds and looks 
and bodily gestures — so many devices that serve our purpose to 
make known what is within our minds. But we cannot produce 
anything exactly like our minds, and so the mind of the speaker 
cannot make itself known with complete inwardness. Hence 
also there is room for lying. But God the Father had the will and 
the power to make himself most truly known to those who were 
destined to know him, and to make himself known he begat one 
who is like himself, and who is called the Power and Wisdom of 
God because God operated through him and arranged all 
things. Wherefore it is written of wisdom that she “reacheth 
from one end of the world to the other with full strength, and 
ordereth all things graciously” (Wisdom 8:1). 

iv, 5. Wherefore the only-begotten Son of God was not made 
by the Father, because, as the Evangelist says, “All things were 
made through him” (John 1 :3). Nor was he born of time for the 
eternally wise God has his Wisdom with him eternally. Nor is 
he unlike the Father, i.e., less in any way, for the apostle says: 
“Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be 
equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). Hence the Catholic Faith excludes 
those who say that the Son is the same as the Father [i.e., 
Sabellians], because the Word could not be with God unless it 
were with God the Father, and he who is alone is equal to none. 
Likewise those are excluded who say that the Son is a creature, 
though not as the other creatures [i.e. the Arians]. Any creature 
however great, if it be a creature, is fashioned and made. To 
fashion is the same as to create, although in the usage of the 
Latin language “to create” is sometimes used as a synonym for 
“to beget.” The Greeks, however, observe the distinction. What 
we call a “creature” they call a /crtoyxa or a ktlois. If we wish 
to speak without ambiguity we must say not creare but condere . 
Therefore if the Son is a creature, however great he may be, he 
is made. We believe in him by whom all things were made, not 
in him by whom other things were made; and we cannot accept 
any other sense of the word “all” except as including whatever 
has been made. 

6. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 
1:14). The Wisdom who was begotten of God deigned to be 



FAITH AND THE CREED 


357 

created among men \creari \ . Here it is pertinent to quote Prov- 
erbs 8:22 (after LXX) “The Lord created me in the beginning 
of his ways. 55 The beginning of his ways is the Head of the 
Church, which is Christ incarnate, through whom there was to 
be given us an example of living, i.e., a certain way by which 
we might reach God. We had fallen through pride; for it was 
said to the first creature of our race: “Taste and ye shall be as 
Gods 55 (Gen. 3:5). We cannot return except through humility. 
Now our restorer deigned to show in his own person an example 
of this humility, i.e., of the way by which we must return. “For 
he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied 
himself, taking the form of a servant 55 (Phil. 2:6). So the Word 
by which all things were made was created man in the beginning 
of his ways. According to his nature as the only-begotten, he 
has no brothers. But according to his nature as first-born, he has 
deigned to call brethren all who, after him and by means of his 
headship, are born again into the grace of God by adoption as 
sons, as the apostolic teaching proclaims. Being Son by nature 
he was born uniquely of the substance of the F ather, being what 
the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. We are not light by 
nature, but we are illumined by that light, according as we are 
able to shine in wisdom. “He was the true light that lighteth 
every man coming into this world 55 (John 1:9). To the Faith 
we profess with regard to eternal things we add the temporal 
dispensation of our Lord, which he deigned to carry through for 
us and to overrule for our salvation. According to his nature as 
only-begotten Son of God, it cannot be said of him that he was, 
or that he will be, but only that he is. What was is not now, and 
what will be is not yet. But he is unchangeable without variation 
or temporal condition. I think there is no other reason for the 
name by which he proclaimed himself to his servant Moses. For 
when he asked by whom he should say he had been sent if the 
people to whom he was sent should scorn him, he received 
the answer: “I Am who I Am”; and it was added: “Say to the 
children of Israel, He who is hath sent me unto you 55 (Ex. 3:14). 

7. From this I am sure it is manifest to spiritual minds that 
there can be no thing which is the opposite of God. For if God 
is and this Word [sc. 1 am] can properly be said of God alone, 
God has nothing opposite to him. What is true abides unchange- 
ably. What changes, once was and is not now, or will be and is 
not yet. If we were asked what is the opposite of white, we 
should answer, black. If we were asked what is the opposite of 
hot, we should reply, cold. If we were asked what is the opposite 



35^ AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

of swift, we should reply, slow; and so on. But if the question is 
asked what is the opposite of that which is, the correct answer is: 
that which is not. 

8. But since, by what I have called a temporal dispensation, 
our mutable nature was assumed by the unchangeable Wisdom 
of God, for our salvation and restoration, by the act of God’s 
loving-kindness, we also put faith in temporal things done on our 
behalf for our salvation. For we believe in the Son of God who was 
born by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary . By the gift of God, that 
is, by the Holy Spirit, there was shown towards us such humility 
on the part of God most high that he deigned to take upon him 
the whole of human nature in the womb of a Virgin, inhabiting 
the body of his Mother and being born of it, while leaving it 
pure and entire. The heretics have many insidious ways of 
attacking this temporal dispensation. But anyone who holds the 
Catholic Faith and believes that the Word assumed the whole 
of human nature, body, soul and spirit, is sufficiently armed 
against them. The incarnation took place for our salvation, so 
we must take care not to suppose that any part of our nature 
was unassumed. Otherwise it will have no part in salvation. 
Apart from the shape of the limbs, which differs in the different 
classes of living creatures, man is not different from the cattle 
except in having a rational spirit, which is also called a mind. 
How could it be sane to believe that the divine Wisdom assumed 
that part of our nature which we have in common with the 
cattle, but did not assume the part which is illumined by the 
light of wisdom, and is man’s characteristic part? 1 

9. Those likewise are to be detested who deny that our Lord 
Jesus Christ had Mary as his mother on earth. That dispensa- 
tion did honour to both sexes male and female, and showed that 
both had a part in God’s care; not only that which he assumed, 
but that also through which he assumed it, being a man born 
of a woman. We are not obliged to deny the Mother of Christ 
because he said: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine 
hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). Rather he lets us know that 
he had no mother so far as his divine nature is concerned, and 
he was preparing to manifest his majestic character by turning 
water into wine. When he was crucified, he was crucified in his 
human character. That was the hour which had not yet come 
when he spoke as he did, meaning the hour when he would 
recognize her. For in the hour when he was crucified he recog- 
nized his mother’s human nature and commended her most 

1 This refers to the heresy of Apollinarius. 



FAITH AND THE CREED 359 

considerately to his beloved disciple. Nor should we be moved 
by the other passage where, when it was announced to him that 
his mother and brethren were present, he replied: “Who is my 
mother? and who are my brethren? 55 (Matt. 12:48). Rather he 
would teach us that if our parents hinder the ministry which is 
ours to minister the Word of God to the brethren, we ought not 
to recognize them. Anyone who thinks that he had no mother on 
earth because he said, “Who is my mother? 55 must also neces- 
sarily think that the apostles had no fathers on earth, because 
he bade them “call no man your father upon the earth; for one 
is your Father, which is in heaven 55 (Matt. 23:9). 

10. Nor should our faith be lessened by any reference to “a 
woman’s internal organs, 55 as if it might appear that we must 
reject any such generation of our Lord, because sordid people 
think that sordid. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men 5 ’ 
(I Cor. 1 125); and “to the pure all things are pure” (Tit. 1:15), 
as the apostle truly says. Those who think in this way ought to 
observe that the rays of the sun, which indeed they do not praise 
as a creature of God but adore as actually God, are poured over 
evil-smelling drains and other horrible things and do their 
natural work there without being made foul by any contamina- 
tion, though visible light is by nature more closely related to 
visible filth. How much less could the Word of God, who is 
neither visible nor corporeal, have been polluted by the body 
of a woman when he assumed human flesh along with a human 
soul and spirit, within which the majesty of the Word was hid- 
den away from the weakness of the human body? It is manifest 
that the Word of God could never have been contaminated by 
the human body, which does not even contaminate the human 
soul. The soul is not soiled by contact with the body when it 
rules and animates the body, but only when it lusts after the 
perishable goods of the body. If these [Manichees] would only 
avoid stains upon their souls, they would rather fear such lies 
and sacrilegious doctrines. 

v, 11. But our Lord’s humility in being born on our behalf 
was only a small part. In addition, he deigned to die for mortals. 
“He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even 
the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8); lest any of us, even if he 
could shake off the fear of death, should dread a kind of death 
which men think most shameful. Accordingly, we believe in 
him who was crucified under Pontius Pilate , and buried . The name 
of the judge had to be added to mark the date. And when we 
confess faith in his burial we remember the new tomb which 



360 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

bears testimony to his resurrection to newness of life, as the 
womb of the Virgin did to his real birth. For just as no other 
dead body was buried in that tomb before or after, so no other 
mortal was conceived in that womb before or after. 

12. Also we believe that he rose again from the dead on the third 
day , the first-born of his brethren who were to follow him, whom 
he called into the adoption of the sons of God and deigned to 
make his co-heirs and co-partners. 

vi, 13. We believe that he ascended into heaven , the place of 
beatitude which he promised even to us, saying: “They will be 
as the angels in heaven 55 (Matt. 22:30) ; in that city which is the 
mother of us all, Jerusalem, eternal in the heavens. It is wont 
to offend certain impious gentiles or heretics that we believe an 
earthly body was taken up into heaven. The gentiles mostly ply 
us eagerly with the arguments of the philosophers who say that 
an earthly object cannot exist in heaven. They do not know our 
Scriptures, or how it is written: “It is sown an animal body; it 
is raised a spiritual body. 55 This does not mean that body is 
changed into spirit and becomes spirit. The spiritual body is 
understood as a body so subject to spirit that it may be suited 
to its celestial habitation, all earthly weakness and corruption 
being changed and converted into celestial purity and stability. 
This is the change of which the apostle speaks when he says: 
“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed 55 (I Cor. 
15:51). That the change is not for the worse but for the better he 
teaches, saying in the next verse: We shall be changed. It is the 
merest vain curiosity to ask where and in what manner the 
Lord’s body is in heaven. It does not become our weakness to 
discuss the secrets of heaven, but it is befitting our faith to think 
highly and honourably of the dignity of the Lord’s body. 

vii, 14. We likewise believe that he sitteth at the right hand of 
the Father. Of course we are not to think that God the Father is 
limited as it were by a human form in such a way that in think- 
ing about him we should imagine a right side and a left side. 
When it is said that “the Father sits 55 we are not to think of him 
as doing so by bending his legs, lest we fall into the sacrilege 
which the apostle execrates in those who have changed the 
glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible 
man. It is sinful to set up an image of God in a Christian temple. 
Much more nefarious is it to do so in the heart which is truly the 
temple of God if it be cleansed from earthly cupidity and error. 
We are to understand “At the right hand of God 55 to mean in 
supreme blessedness where righteousness is, and peace and joy; 



FAITH AND THE CREED 361 

just as the goats are placed on the left hand (Matt, 25:35), i.e., 
in misery, on account of their iniquities, toils and torments. To 
say that “God sits’ ’ signifies not the position of his members, but 
his judicial power, which his divine majesty never lacks, but 
which ever metes out to men their deserts. But at the last judg- 
ment the brightness of the only-begotten Son of God, Judge of 
the living and of the dead, will be much more manifest among 
men so that none shall doubt it for ever. 

viii, 15. We also believe that at the right time, Thence he will 
come to judge the quick and the dead . Possibly these names signify 
the righteous and the sinners. Or it may be that those are called 
quick whom he will then find alive upon the earth, while the 
dead are those who will be raised at his coming. In any case the 
temporal dispensation is not like his divine generation; for it 
has both a past and a future. Our Lord was on the earth, is now 
in heaven and will come in shining raiment to judge the quick 
and the dead. He will come as he ascended according to the 
authority of Scripture in the Acts of the Apostles. And of this 
temporal dispensation it is written in the Apocalypse: “Thus 
saith he who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1 :8). 

ix, 16. Having considered and commended to faith the 
divine generation of our Lord and the dispensation with regard 
to his manhood, in order to complete what we believe about 
God, we add: And in the Holy Spirit . The Holy Spirit is not by 
nature less than the Father or the Son, but is, if I may say so, 
consubstantial and co-eternal with them. That Trinity is one 
God. Not that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are identically the 
same. But the Father is Father, the Son is Son and the Holy 
Spirit is Holy Spirit, and this Trinity is one God, as it is written: 
“Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God” (Deut. 6:4). And 
yet if we are asked about the several Persons, e.g., is the Father 
God, we shall reply, he is God. If the same question is asked 
about the Son, we shall give the same answer. Nor if the same 
question were asked about the Holy Spirit ought we to say 
anything else than that he is God. But we have to be very careful 
to avoid the sense in which it is said of men: “Ye are gods” 
(Ps. 82:6). These are not gods by nature who are made and 
fashioned by the F ather through the Son by the gift of the Holy 
Spirit. The Trinity is signified when the apostle says: “For of 
him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 1 1 136) . 
Therefore, although when we are asked about the several Persons 
and answer that each is God, whether it be the Father or the Son 
or the Holy Spirit, no one is to think that we worship three Gods. 



362 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

17. It is not surprising that we speak like this about an in- 
effable nature, for something similar is met with even in things 
which we see with our bodily eyes and judge with our bodily 
senses. When we are asked about a fountain we cannot call it a 
river, and when we are asked about a river we cannot call it a 
fountain; and if we take a drink from a fountain or a river we 
cannot call it either a fountain or a river. But we describe all 
these three things, together or severally, as water. If I ask 
whether what is in the fountain or in the river or in the tumbler 
is water, in each case the reply must be that it is; and yet we do 
not say that there are three waters but only one. Certainly we 
must take care that no one imagines that the ineffable substance 
of the Divine Majesty is like a visible corporeal fountain or river 
or tumbler of water. For the water which is now in the fountain 
does not remain there but flows out into the river; and when a 
drink is taken from a fountain or a river it does not remain in the 
place from which it is taken. Accordingly it can happen that 
the same water can belong successively to the fountain, the river 
and the drinking vessel. But in the Divine Trinity the Father 
cannot be now the Son and again the Holy Spirit. In a tree the 
root is simply the root, the trunk the trunk and the branches are 
nothing but branches. We do not use the word “root” of the 
trunk or the branches. Nor does the wood which belongs to the 
root pass in any way into the trunk or the branches, but remains 
only in the root. And yet the rule remains that the root is wood 
and the trunk and the branches are wood, but we cannot say 
there are three woods but one only. Possibly because of a differ- 
ence in strength these portions of a tree may be so unlike that it 
would not be absurd to speak of three kinds of wood. At least all 
admit that if three goblets are filled from one fountain, we may 
speak of three goblets but not of three waters, but of water in 
the singular only. If you were asked about the goblets severally 
you would reply that there is water in each of them, although 
there is no passage from one to the other as we observed there 
was from the fountain into the river. These corporeal examples 
have been given not because they bear any real resemblance to 
the divine nature, but because they show the unity of visible 
things, and to let you understand that it is possible for three 
things not only severally but also together to be designated by a 
singular noun; so that no one may be surprised and think it 
absurd that we call the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit 
God, but hold that in that Trinity there are not three Gods but 
One only, one substance. 



FAITH AND THE CREED 363 

18. Many learned and spiritual men have discoursed in many 
books about the Father and the Son, trying to explain, as far as 
men can explain to men, how the Father and the Son are not 
one Person but one substance, and what the Father is in himself 
and what the Son is in himself: how the Father begets, and the 
Son is begotten; how the Father is not of the Son, but the Son is 
of the Father; how the Father is the principle of the Son, 
whence he is called the Head of Christ (I Cor. 11:3), though 
Christ also is principle but not of the Father. He is the image of 
the Father, though in no way dissimilar but altogether and 
indistinguishably equal. These things are dealt with at greater 
length by those whose purpose it is to expound more fully than 
we are doing the profession of the whole Christian faith. The 
Son as Son has received existence from the Father, while the 
Father has not received existence from the Son. So far as, 
according to the temporal dispensation, the Son in ineffable 
compassion assumed human nature, a mutable creature, in 
order to change it for the better, many things are found written 
in Scripture which mislead the impious minds of heretics who 
wish to teach rather than to learn, and give them an excuse for 
thinking that the Son is not equal to the F ather, nor of the same 
substance. Such are: “The Father is greater than I” (John 
14:28) . “The head of the woman is the man; and the head of the 
man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor. 11:3). 
“Then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put 
all things under him.” (I Cor. 15:28) “I go to my Father and 
your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). And 
some other similar passages. These things are not written to 
signify any inequality of nature or substance. Otherwise these 
other passages would be false: — “I and the Father are one” 
(John 10:30); “He who hath seen me hath seen the Father” 
(John 14:9); “The Word was God” (John 1:1) — for he was not 
made, since all things were made through him; “He thought it 
not robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). And there are 
other such passages. The former passages are written partly on 
account of the economy of the incarnation, for it is said that he 
emptied himself — not that Wisdom was changed, for he is com- 
pletely unchangeable, but that he wished to make himself 
known to men in this humble manner. Partly, then, on account 
of this economy these passages were written which the heretics 
falsely interpret; but partly also for this reason that the Son owes 
the Father his existence, but owes him also his equality with the 
F ather. The F ather on the other hand owes his existence to none. 



AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


364 

19. But great and learned commentators of the divine Scrip- 
tures have not as yet discussed the doctrine of the Holy Spirit 
with the same fullness and care, so that we may easily under- 
stand his peculiar character as Holy Spirit, by which he is to be 
distinguished from the Father and the Son. But they declare 
that he is the gift of God, so that we may believe that God gives 
no gift inferior to himself. They take care, however, to declare 
that the Holy Spirit is not begotten of the Father like the Son, 
for Christ is unique. Nor was he begotten of the Son as if he 
were the grandson of the Father, most high. Moreover, he owes 
his existence to the Father from whom are all things. He does 
not exist in himself; that would be to set up two independent 
principles instead of one, which is utterly false and absurd, and 
is the mark not of the Catholic Faith but of the error of some 
heretics. Some have even dared to believe that the Holy Spirit 
is the communion or deity, so to speak, of the Father and the 
Son, their deorrjs as the Greeks call it. So, as the Father is God and 
the Son is God, the very deity which embraces both — the 
Father who begets the Son and the Son who cleaves to the 
Father — is equated with God by whom the Son is begotten. This 
4 ‘deity, 5 5 by which they would have understood the mutual love 
and charity of both Father and Son, they say is called the Holy 
Spirit, and they adduce many proofs from Scripture for their 
opinion. For example: “The love of God is shed abroad in our 
hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). 
There are many other similar testimonies. And because we are 
reconciled to God through the Holy Spirit, whence also he is 
called the gift of God, they would have it clearly indicated that 
the Holy Spirit is the Love of God. For we are not reconciled 
to him save through Love, whereby we are also called sons. For 
we are not under fear as slaves, but perfect love casteth out fear, 
and we have received the Spirit of liberty “whereby we cry 
Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Because by love we are recon- 
ciled and brought back to friendship, and can know all the 
secret things of God, it is of the Holy Spirit that it is written: 
“He will bring you into all truth” (John 16:13). Hence the con- 
fidence in preaching the truth which filled the apostles when 
the Spirit came is rightly attributed to Love. For diffidence 
comes from fear which is excluded by perfect Love. Likewise he 
is called the gift of God, because no one enjoys what he knows 
unless he loves it. To enjoy the Wisdom of God is nothing else 
but to cleave to him in love; and no one has an abiding grasp 
of anything unless he loves it. Moreover he is called Holy 



FAITH AND THE CREED 365 

Spirit, since whatever is made holy is made holy in order to 
abide for ever. And there is no doubt that the word sanctity is 
derived from sancire , to make holy. Above all the asserters of 
this opinion make Use of this testimony from Scripture: “That 
which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is bom of the 
Spirit is Spirit. For God is a Spirit” (John 3:6; John 4:24). Here 
he speaks of our regeneration which is not after the flesh accord- 
ing to Adam, but after the Holy Spirit according to Christ. If, 
they say, it is the Holy Spirit that is spoken of in the words, God 
is a Spirit, it ought to be observed that what is said is that God 
is a Spirit, not that the Spirit is God. Hence the deity of the 
Father and the Son is here called God, that is the Holy Spirit. 
Besides, there is this other testimony where the apostle John says 
that God is love. He does not say love is God but God is love, 
so that deity may be understood to be love. There is of course 
no mention of the Holy Spirit in that passage where many 
things are linked together: “All things are yours, and ye are 
Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (I Cor. 3:21, 23); and in the other 
passage: “The head of the woman is the man, and the head of 
the man is Christ and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor. 11:3). 
But they say that this is due to the fact that where things are 
linked together the link that holds them together is not usually 
included among them. Hence those who read with close attention 
seem to recognize the Trinity in the passage where it is written: 
“Of him and through him and in him are all things.” “Of him” 
points to him who owes existence to none; “through him” points 
to the Mediator; and “in him” points to him who contains all 
things and binds them together. 

20. This view is contradicted by those who think that that 
communion, whether we call it Deity or Love or Charity, is not 
a substance. They want to have the Holy Spirit explained 
according to his substance, and do not understand that God 
could not be said to be love unless love were a substance. They 
are influenced by ordinary corporeal experience. If two bodies 
are joined together so as to be set side by side, the junction is not 
a body. For if the two things which had been joined together are 
separated, nothing else remains. The “junction” cannot be 
understood to have moved away, as the bodies parted company. 
Let such people make for themselves a clean heart so that they 
may be able to see that there cannot be in the substance of God 
both substance and accidents. All that can be understood to be 
there is substance. It is easy to speak about such things and even 
to believe them, but they cannot be seen as they are save by the 



366 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

pure heart. Whatever the true view may be in this matter, we 
must hold with unshaken faith that the Father is God and the 
Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God; that there are not three 
Gods, but that the Trinity is One God; that the persons are not 
diverse in nature but are of the same substance; that the Father 
is not now the Son and now the Holy Spirit; but that the Father 
is always the Father and the Son always the Son and the Holy 
Spirit always the Holy Spirit. We must not rashly affirm any- 
thing about invisible things as if we knew, but only as those who 
believe. These things can only be seen by the pure heart. He 
who, in this life, sees them in part and in an enigma, as it is 
written, cannot by speaking about them let another see them, 
who is hindered by uncleanness of heart. 4 ‘Blessed are the pure 
in heart for they shall see God’ 5 (Matt. 5:8). This is our faith 
concerning God our maker and renewer. 

x, 21. We are commanded to love not only God but also our 
neighbour; as it is written: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God 
with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind 
and thy neighbour as thyself. 55 Unless the Christian faith gather 
men together into a society in which brotherly love can 
operate, it remains less fruitful. Hence we believe [in] the Holy 
Church , that is to say, the Catholic Church . Heretics and schismatics 
also call their congregations churches. But heretics do violence 
to the faith by holding false opinions about God; and schis- 
matics, although they believe as we believe, have broken away 
from brotherly love by wicked separations. Wherefore heretics 
do not belong to the Catholic Church which loves God; nor do 
schismatics, for the Church loves its neighbour, and easily for- 
gives his sins because it prays to be forgiven by him who has 
reconciled us to himself, blotting out all past transgressions and 
calling us to new life. Until we attain perfect life we cannot be 
without sins, but it makes all the difference what kind of sins we 
commit. 

22. There is no need now to deal with the differences between 
sins, but we must by all means believe that our sins will not be 
forgiven if we are inexorable in refusing to forgive. We accord- 
ingly believe in the forgiveness of sins. 

23. Man consists of three parts, spirit, soul and body. Some- 
times there are said to be only two, for soul and spirit are spoken 
of often as one thing, whereof the rational part, which beasts 
lack, is called spirit. Then the life-force by which we are united 
to our bodies is called the soul. Finally there is the body which, 
because it is visible, is called our lowest part. This whole 



FAITH AND THE GREED 367 

creature “groaneth and travaileth until now 55 (Rom. 8:22), but 
has put forth the first-fruits of the spirit because it has believed 
God and has already a good will. The spirit is also called mind, 
of which the apostle says: “I serve the law of God with my 
mind” (Rom. 7:25). In another place he says: “God is my wit- 
ness, whom I serve in my spirit” (Rom. 1:9). But the soul is 
called tc flesh” so long as it desires carnal goods. For part of it 
resists the spirit, not by nature but by sinful custom and habit. 
Hence it is written: “With my mind I serve the law of God, but 
with the flesh the law of sin.” This custom has been changed 
into a veritable natural state in his mortal descendants by the sin 
of the first man. Therefore it is written: “We too were at one 
time by nature the children of wrath,” that is, of the punishment 
by which we were made to serve the law of sin (Eph. 2:3). 
The soul is by nature perfect when it is subject to its own spirit, 
and follows the spirit as the spirit follows God. The natural 
[animalis, soulish] man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of 
God. The soul is not so speedily subjected to the spirit in order 
to perform good works, as the spirit is subjected to God to pro- 
duce true faith and a good will. Sometimes its impulse to seek 
carnal and temporal things is with difficulty restrained. But 
sometimes it is cleansed and recovers the stability of its nature 
under the mastery of the spirit — for the spirit is the head of 
the soul as Christ is the head of the spirit. Hence there is no 
need to despair of the body, too, being restored to its proper 
nature, but not so speedily as the soul, still less speedily than the 
spirit, but at the opportune time, at the last trump, when the 
dead shall arise incorruptible and we shall be changed (I Cor. 
15:52). Therefore we believe in the resurrection of the flesh . That is 
to say; not merely is the soul restored which is now called 
“flesh” (in Scripture) on account of its carnal affections, but 
also this visible flesh, which is naturally flesh and which gives 
its name to the soul on account of the latter’s carnal affections 
in spite of its higher nature — this visible flesh, properly so- 
called, we must believe without hesitation, rises again from the 
dead. The apostle Paul seems to have directly pointed his finger 
at the flesh when he wrote: “ This corruptible must put on in- 
corruption.” When he says This he as good as points with his 
finger. That which is visible can be pointed at in this way. The 
soul cannot be pointed at, though it can be called corruptible 
because it is corrupted by moral vices. [Therefore Paul is here 
speaking of flesh in its natural acceptation.] When we read: 
“This mortal must put on immortality,” again the visible flesh is 



368 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

signified, for again we have the same demonstrative pronoun. 
For the soul can be said to be mortal as well as corruptible on 
account of its moral vices. The death of the soul is to depart from 
God (cp. Ecclesiasticus 10:12). This first sin committed in 
paradise is related in the sacred books. 

24. The body will rise again according to the Christian faith 
which is infallible. He who finds this incredible is fixing his 
attention on what the flesh is like now, and is not considering 
what it will be like hereafter. When it has been changed into an 
angelic thing, there will be no longer flesh and blood, but simply 
body. Speaking of flesh the apostle says: “There is one flesh of 
beasts, another of birds, another of fishes and serpents. There 
are also bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial.” Notice he does 
not say celestial flesh, but celestial and terrestrial bodies (I Cor. 
15:40). All flesh is corporeal, but every body is not flesh. Among 
terrestrial things wood is a corporeal thing but is not flesh, 
while the body of man and beast is also flesh. Among celestial 
things there is no flesh, but simple and shining bodies, which the 
apostle calls spiritual; but some call them ethereal. So he does 
not deny the resurrection of the flesh when he says: “Flesh and 
blood shall not possess the kingdom of God, 55 but declares what 
flesh and blood are to become. If any man does not believe that 
common flesh can be changed into a nature of this sort, he is 
to be led on to faith by gradual steps. If you ask him whether 
earth can be changed into water, that will not seem to him in- 
credible because there is no great distance between these two 
elements. Again if you ask whether water can be changed into 
air, he will agree that that is not absurd because these two ele- 
ments are close neighbours. Let him next be asked about air, 
whether it can be transformed into an ethereal body, and again 
the close relation of the two elements will make it plausible. 
Now when he has admitted the possibility that earth can be 
transmuted by these stages into ethereal body, why should it 
not be possible directly when God so wills it, who once made 
it possible for a human body to walk upon the waters? Why 
should he not believe that it can happen without these 
intermediate steps, “in the twinkling of an eye, 5 ’ as it is written 
[I Cor. 15:52); just as smoke is often turned into flame with 
marvellous speed? Our flesh is no doubt derived from the earth. 
Philosophical arguments in proof of the assertion that no earthly 
object can be in heaven are often urged against faith in the 
resurrection of the flesh; and yet the philosophers admit that 
any body can be changed and transformed into any other. 



FAITH AND THE GREED 


369 

When the resurrection of the body has taken place we shall be 
freed from our temporal condition, and shall enjoy eternal life 
in ineffable charity and with a constancy that knows no cor- 
ruption. Then shall it be as it is written: ‘ ‘Death is swallowed up 
in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Death, where is thy 
contention?” (I Cor. 15:54). 

24. This is the faith which is handed over to young Christians, 
expressed in a few words, which they are to hold faithfully. 
These few words are made known to believers, that, believing, 
they may subject themselves to God, being so subject may live 
righteous lives, living righteously they may cleanse their hearts, 
and with a pure heart may know what they believe. 



To Simplician 


on Various Questions. Book I 


St. Augustine's Review of“De Quaestionibus Ad Simplicianum 

Retractations , //, z 

i . Of the books which I wrote after I became a bishop the first 
two are Answers to divers Questions addressed to Simplician who suc- 
ceeded the Blessed Ambrose as Bishop of Milan. In the first book 
I have set forth my answer to two questions concerning passages 
from the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. The first 
concerns Romans 7:7-25. Whereas the apostle says, “The law 
is spiritual but I am carnal etc.,” showing that the flesh wars 
against the spirit, I have expounded his words as if he were 
describing the man who is still under the law and not yet under 
grace. Long afterwards I learned that these words could also 
describe the spiritual man and indeed in all probability do so. 
The second question concerns Romans 9:10-29. In answering 
this question I have tried hard to maintain the free choice of the 
human will, but the grace of God prevailed. Not otherwise 
could I reach the understanding that the apostle spoke with 
absolute truth when he said, “Who made thee to differ? What 
hast thou that thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive 
it, why dost thou glory as if thou didst not receive it?” This 
truth Cyprian the martyr too wanted to make clear, and he ex- 
pressed it completely in a phrase “In nothing must we glory 
since nothing is ours.” 

2. In the second book other questions are treated and solved 
according to our poor capacity. They all come from the so- 
called Books of Kings. The first concerns the words, “The spirit 
of the Lord came upon Saul” whereas in another place it is 
written, “An evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul.” In 
expounding this I said, “Though to will is in the power of any 
man, ability to perform is not in his power.” The reason for 
saying this is precisely that we do not say a thing is in our power 



TO SIMPLIGI AN ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 37 1 

unless what we will is done. Then willing is the first and chief 
consideration. The will is there immediately when we will; but 
we receive from above the power to live aright, when the will 
is prepared by the Lord. The second question is what is the 
meaning of the words, “I repent that I have made Saul King”? 
The third is whether the unclean spirit that was in the priestess 
of Delphi could have brought it to pass that Samuel appeared to 
Saul and spoke with him. The fourth explains “King David 
entered and sat before the Lord.” The fifth deals with the words 
of Elijah: “O Lord, thou hast brought evil upon this widow 
with whom I sojourn, in slaying her son,” 



To Simplician 


on Various Questions. Book I 


INTRODUCTION 

I n the Eighth Book of the Confessions Augustine 
tells us how in his growing spiritual distress he went to con- 
sult Simplician, an aged presbyter of Milan and a trusted 
friend and counsellor of Ambrose. To him he unfolded the tale 
of his wanderings in the maze of error; and from him he re- 
ceived encouragement to persevere in the study of the Platonists 
because in their works “God and his Word are everywhere im- 
plied. Simplician also told him about Victorinus, the trans- 
lator of Plotinus, in whose conversion he had had a part. 
Victorinus, an African by birth, had acquired wide-spread fame 
as an orator in Rome, and had so gained the friendship of many 
Senators. One day he announced to Simplician that in his 
reading of the Bible and the Christian writers he had become 
convinced of the truth of Christianity, but he hesitated long 
before at last he openly confessed his faith by accepting Bap- 
tism publicly in the church in Rome. Subsequently he suffered 
for his faith under the law of Julian which excluded Christians 
from the teaching profession. The story naturally set Augustine 
on fire to imitate him. Simplician’s spiritual help at this junc- 
ture put Augustine deeply in his debt, and between the two men 
there was forged a bond of regard and affection. 

In 397 Simplician succeeded Ambrose as Bishop of Milan, 
some eighteen months after Augustine had become coadjutor- 
Bishop of Hippo. The latter’s first literary work as bishop was to 
reply in two books to certain questions of Biblical interpretation 
sent to him by Simplician. He says they were written “at the 
very beginning of my episcopate,” and there is nothing to sug- 
gest that the elevation of Simplician had already taken place. 
Of these two books, the first contains the answers to Simplician’s 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 373 

first two questions, a detailed exegesis of two difficult passages 
from the Epistle to the Romans; and it is here translated not 
only as a good example of Augustine’s exegetical work, but also 
because it is generally held to mark an important stage in his 
understanding of St. Paul. Augustine himself recognized this, 
and pointed it out in two of his latest works (De Praedestinatione 
Sanctorum , iv, 8 and De Dono Per sever antiae, xx, 52). 

Even before his conversion, and doubtless owing to the in- 
fluence of Ambrose, Augustine had been reading the Epistles of 
St. Paul, and had found in them something that spoke to his 
condition, perhaps even more directly than did the Platonist 
books ( Confessions , VII, xxi). His copy was lying on his table 
when Pontician called (ibid., VIII, vi), whose story of St. 
Antony moved him profoundly and introduced the final scene 
in the drama of his conversion. When the voice heard in the 
garden bade him “Take up and read,” it was to this book he 
turned. Opening it at random and chancing to light on 
Romans 13:13, he saw there a divine call to abandon the world 
and his conversion was complete. He took the book with him to 
Cassiciacum and there read it through carefully from beginning 
to end ( Contra Acad., II, ii, 5), clear evidence that his whole 
activity during that period is not reflected in the Dialogues. Most 
likely a Pauline influence modifies and colours his Platonism 
from the beginning, and in time it becomes very marked, not- 
ably in De Vera Religione. It is not surprising, therefore, that 
during his presbyterate he should have devoted much of his 
attention to the Pauline Epistles. He wrote a commentary on 
Galatians, and planned another on Romans, but on such a 
gigantic scale that he abandoned it when he had dealt only 
with the first five verses of the address. Somewhat earlier a group 
of clergy in Carthage, which included Augustine, were studying 
the Epistle to the Romans, and he made some comments which 
at the request of the brethren he committed to writing under 
the title of “Exposition of certain Propositions from the Epistle 
to the Romans.” Simplician’s Questions concerned two of the 
passages which had there been briefly dealt with. 

The First Question concerns the crucial passage which has 
been and still is much disputed by theologians, Romans 7:7-25. 
Augustine’s new treatment of it is long and more elaborate but 
the interpretation remains as in the earlier Exposition. His main 
concern is to defend the Old Testament Law as a good thing 
against its detractors. It brings sin to consciousness and makes 
it more sinful through imparting to it the character of deliberate 



374 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

and conscious transgression of the divine commandment. It can- 
not give the power to perform that which is right. Nevertheless 
it points out the way of righteousness, and produces anxiety 
with regard to guilt so that the soul may be prepared to receive 
grace. To be under the law is a higher state than to have no law. 
Augustine still accepts the view that in this passage the apostle 
is speaking in the character of a man set under the law and not 
yet under grace. Controversy with the Pelagians forced him 
later to abandon this view ( Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum , 
I, viii). He came to see that baptized Christians and even 
apostles could not in this life attain a state of perfect peace and 
righteousness. Even under grace the impulses of concupiscence 
have always to be resisted. Here he discovers the principle, so 
important to Luther and the Reformers, Simul Justus et Peccator. 

The Second Question has to do with the interpretation of 
Romans 9:10-29. Here the much harder problem of the rela- 
tion of grace and free-will is faced. (2) The clue to its solution is 
to be sought in the purpose of the Epistle as a whole, which is to 
show that no man may glory in his own good works. (3) This is 
strikingly illustrated in the extreme case of Jacob’s being chosen 
and Esau’s being rejected before either was born or had done 
aught of good or evil. There could have been no question of 
selection, or election, on the strength of good works performed, 
or even of faith, in either case. (5) The suggestion must be ruled 
out that the selection was made on the ground of the presence or 
absence of faith or good works which God foresaw would be 
forthcoming. (7) Faith is due to the calling of God and must be 
numbered among the gifts of grace. It is therefore not meritori- 
ous. (8) If we say that God graciously calls a man, bestows faith 
upon him and the power to do good works, no difficulty arises; 
but (10) why does he not do so in all cases? Is it because some 
are willing to hear and believe, and others are unwilling? For 
we cannot believe unwillingly. (12) Formally we have the power 
to will, but the good will is the gift of God, so that even willing 
is not wholly ours. (13) What, then, of those who reject God’s 
call? Gan they frustrate his gracious purpose? Rather we must 
say that some are effectually called, others not so. To some the 
call is made in such a way that they will hear and obey. Others 
are hardened. (16) Two truths are sure (a) There is no un- 
righteousness with God. ( b ) He treats men differently “as he 
wills.” There is a higher hidden justice which is, however, re- 
flected in human affairs. A creditor may exact or remit a debt, 
and in neither case is he chargeable with injustice. Certainly the 



TO SIM PLICI AN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 375 

debtors have no cause for complaint. Man may not question the 
ways of God. (17) Like the potter with the clay, God makes 
vessels, some to honour, some to dishonour. (19) All men are 
made of one lump, a massa peccati , and some are to be saved, 
others are to be lost. (21) To those whom he wills to save God 
provides a motive adequate to win them to faith and obedience. 
(22) Election, therefore, precedes justification. God elects of his 
mere good pleasure those who are to be justified so that they 
may attain eternal life. Without election there can be neither 
faith nor obedience. But God’s judgments are inscrutable and 
his ways past finding out. For all that he does he is to be praised. 

Augustine here has taken a step beyond his earlier Exposition, 
due, as he tells us repeatedly, to a better understanding of cer- 
tain Pauline expressions, notably “The election of grace.” 
There he was endeavouring to hold a balance between grace 
and free-will. “It is ours to believe and to will; it is God’s to 
give to those who believe and are willing the power to do good 
works, through the Holy Spirit by whom love is spread abroad 
in our hearts.” Now he teaches that God must himself graciously 
prepare the heart for faith, so that faith too is to be numbered 
among the gifts of grace, no less than the power to do good; and 
man’s salvation is, therefore, wholly the work of God. The moral 
difficulty involved in the assertion that God arbitrarily selects 
some and not others for his gracious aid is met with an appeal 
to his omnipotence and inscrutable justice. Man may not ques- 
tion his Maker’s judgments. “Give what thou commandest, and 
command what thou wilt.” The position is now reached in all 
its essential features which provoked the protest of Pelagius, and 
which had to be defended against the Pelagians from 41 1 
onwards to the end of Augustine’s life. 



To Simplician — on Various Questions. Book I 

THE TEXT 
Preface 

Very pleasing and agreeable is the honour you have done me, 
Father Simplician, in sending me your questions. If I did not 
try to answer them I should be not only contumacious but also 
ungrateful. The problems which you have propounded for me 
to solve from the apostle Paul I had already discussed in writing. 
But not content with my former inquiry and exposition, in case 
I might have overlooked anything through negligence, I have 
investigated with greater care and attention these same 
apostolic words and the tenor of his sentences. For you would 
not have judged that they should be treated again, if the 
understanding of them were easy and ready to hand. 

First Question. Romans 7:7-25 

1. Your first question asks me to interpret the passage begin- 
ning: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid,” 
down to, “I consent unto the law that it is good,” and so on 
down to, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me 
from the body of this death? Thanks be unto God through Jesus 
Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:7-25). In this passage the apostle 
seems to me to represent himself as a man set under the law, and 
to speak in that character. And because just before he had said: 
“We have been discharged from the law of death wherein we 
were holden; so that we serve in newness of the spirit and not in 
the oldness of the letter,” and might by these words seem to have 
found fault with the law he added forthwith: “What shall we 
say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Howbeit I had not known 
sin but by the law. For I had not known concupiscence except 
the law had said Thou shalt not covet.” 

376 



TO SIMPLICI AN ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 377 

2. But again, if the law is not sin but introduces sin, even so 
it is found fault with in these words. Therefore we must under- 
stand that the law was given not to introduce sin nor to extir- 
pate it, but simply to make it known; by the demonstration of 
sin to give the human soul a sense of its guilt in place of a secure 
sense of its innocence. Sin cannot be overcome without the 
grace of God, so the law was given to convert the soul by anxiety 
about its guilt, so that it might be ready to receive grace. Accord- 
ingly he does not say: “Without the law I had not committed 
sin,” but: “I had not known sin except through the law.” And 
again, he does not say: “I had no concupiscence except the 
law had said Thou shalt not covet,” but: “I had not known con- 
cupiscence except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” 
Hence it appears that concupiscence was not implanted in him 
by the law, but was made known to him. 

3. The consequence was that concupiscence was even in- 
creased, since it could not be resisted when grace was not yet 
received. For concupiscence acquires greater strength when in 
addition there is violation of a law. It is aggravated when it is 
done against the law, and becomes a worse sin than if there had 
been no law prohibiting it. Accordingly he adds: “Sin, finding 
occasion through the commandment wrought in me all manner 
of concupiscence.” Sin, then, existed before the law, but did not 
reach its full sinfulness because there was so far no violation of a 
law. So in another passage he says: “Where there is no law 
there is no breaking of the law.” 

4. He goes on: “Without the law sin is dead.” That is as if he 
said, “sin is latent,” in other words, “is thought to be dead.” 
He is going to say that more clearly a little later. “I lived without 
the law once,” he says, i.e., no fear of death because of sin ter- 
rified me, because sin was not made manifest when there was no 
law. “But when the commandment came, sin revived,” i.e., 
became manifest, “and I died,” i.e., I knew that I was dead — 
because the guilt of breaking the law was threatened by the cer- 
tain punishment of death. Indeed when he says that sin revived 
when the commandment came, he makes it perfectly clear that 
sin had lived before and had been known, I suppose, in the sin 
of the first man, since he had received and violated a command- 
ment. In another place he says: “The woman being beguiled 
fell into transgression” (I Tim. 2:14). And again: “After the 
likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a figure of him who was 
to come” (Rom. 5:14). In any case, nothing can be said to re- 
vive which did not live at some previous time. But sin was dead, 



378 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

that is, hidden, all the time that men were born mortal and 
lived without the commandment of the law, following the 
desires of the flesh in ignorance because there was no prohibi- 
tion. Therefore he says: “I lived without the law once. 55 Thereby 
he shows that he is not speaking in his own person but generally 
in the person of “the old man. 55 But “when the commandment 
came, sin revived and I died; the commandment which was 
unto life I found to be unto death. 55 But if the commandment is 
obeyed it surely gives life. But it was found to be unto death 
because it was disobeyed. Now, what is done contrary to the 
commandment is sin, just as it was sinful even before the com- 
mandment was given, but now it is more abundantly and 
perniciously sinful, because it is done knowingly and in trans- 
gression of the commandment. 

5. “For sin, 55 he says, “finding occasion through the com- 
mandment deceived me and thereby slew me. 55 Sin became 
sweeter, wrongly using the law to increase desire which it 
was intended to forbid. Thereby it deceived him. Sweetness 
is deceptive because it is followed by much bitterness in the 
shape of punishment. Men who have not yet received spiritual 
grace find greater pleasure in doing what is forbidden, and so 
sin deceives them with its false sweetness. When there is added 
the sense of the guilt of transgression, sin slays. 

6. Accordingly “the law is holy and the commandment holy, 
just and good. 55 It commands what ought to be commanded, 
and prohibits what ought to be prohibited. “Was that which is 
good, then, made death to me? God forbid. 55 The fault lies in 
making a bad use of the commandment, which in itself is good. 
“The law is good if one use it lawfully 55 (I Tim. 1:8). But he 
makes a bad use of the law who does not subject himself to God 
in humble piety, so that, with the aid of grace, he may become 
able to fulfil the law. He who does not use the law lawfully 
receives it to no other end than that his sin, which was latent 
before the prohibition, should be made apparent by his trans- 
gression. And this above measure, for it is not only sin but it is 
also contrary to direct commandment. So he goes on: “Sin, that 
it might be shown to be sin, worked death in me through that 
which is good, that through the commandment sin might be- 
come exceeding sinful . 55 Here he makes clear in what sense he 
wrote the words, “Without the law sin was dead , 55 not that it 
did not exist but that it was not made apparent, and also what 
he meant by saying that “sin revived 55 — not simply that that 
should exist which already existed before the law, but that it 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 379 

should be made apparent by being committed against the law. 
That is what he is saying here. “Sin, that it might be shown to 
be sin, worked death in me through that which is good.” He 
does not say that there should be sin, but that it should be shown 
to be sin. 

7. Then he gives the cause why it should be so. “We know 
that the law is spiritual but I am carnal.” Thus he clearly shows 
that the law cannot be fulfilled except by spiritual persons, and 
there cannot be such save by grace. The more one is assimilated 
to the spiritual law, the more one attains to a spiritual disposi- 
tion, the more one fulfils the law. The more one delights in it, 
the less one is afflicted by its burdensomeness, and the more one 
is quickened by its light. “For the commandment of the Lord 
is pure, enlightening the eyes; and the law of the Lord is 
perfect, converting the soul” (Ps. 19:8). When grace forgives 
sins and infuses a spirit of charity, righteousness ceases to be 
hard and becomes even pleasant. When he said “I am carnal,” 
he raised the question of what carnal means. People are called 
carnal in some degree who are already under grace, redeemed 
by the blood of the Lord and regenerated by faith. To such the 
apostle writes: “I could not speak to you, brethren, as to 
spiritual but as carnal. As babes in Christ I have given you milk 
to drink not meat.” In so saying he shows that they had been 
regenerated by grace, for they were babes in Christ, and had 
to be given milk to drink, and he still calls them carnal. He 
who is not yet under grace but is under the law, is carnal in the 
sense that he is not yet regenerate from sin but is still sold under 
sin. The price of deadly pleasure includes the sweetness which 
deceives, and gives delight in doing contrary to the law, which 
is all the more pleasant the less it is lawful. No one can enjoy 
that sweetness as the price of his condition without being com- 
pelled to serve lust as a chattel-slave. He who knows that an act 
is prohibited and rightly prohibited, and yet does it, knows that 
he is the slave of an overmastering desire. 

8. “That which I do I know not.” This does not mean that he 
does not know that he is sinning, for that would contradict what 
he said above. “Sin, that it might be shown to be sin, worked 
death in me through that which is good.” “I had not known 
sin save by the law.” Obviously when he can use expressions 
like these he cannot mean that he is ignorant of having sinned. 
He uses the word as the Lord is going to use it when he will say 
to the impious “I know you not.” Nothing escapes the notice of 
God, “for the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to 



380 Augustine: earlier writings 

destroy the memory of them from the earth. 55 Sometimes we say 
we do not know, meaning that we do not approve. So when he 
says “That which I do I know not 55 he means “I approve not. 55 
And he makes this clear in what follows, “Not what I would, 
that do I practise, but what I hate that I do. 55 Here he says he 
hates what he had just said he did not know. Now of those to 
whom the Lord will say “I know you not 55 it is also said “Thou, 
O Lord, dost hate all the workers of iniquity 55 (Ps. 5:5). 

9. “If what I would not, that I do, I consent unto the law that 
it is good. 55 What he would not is what is also forbidden by the 
law. Therefore, he consents unto the law, not of course in so far 
as he does what the law prohibits, but in so far as he does not 
will to do what he in fact does. He is overcome because he is 
not yet free by grace, but he already knows through the law 
that he is doing wrong, and he does not really want to do that. 
And he continues: “So now it is no more I that do it, but sin 
that dwelleth in me. 55 He does not mean that he did not consent 
to do the wrong, but that he consented to the law’s disapproba- 
tion of the wrong. He is still speaking in the person of a man 
under the law and not yet under grace, who is brought to do 
wrong by some dominant desire, and by some deceptive sweet- 
ness associated with prohibited sin. But he disapproves of this 
because of his knowledge of the law. “It is no more I that do it, 55 
he says, because he is overcome when he does it. It is a desire 
that does it, when we yield to an overmastering one. Grace 
brings it about that we do not yield, and that the human mind 
is strengthened to resist desire. Of grace he will be speaking 
later. 

10. “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no 
good thing. 55 So far as knowledge goes he consents unto the law, 
but so far as action is concerned he yields to sin. If it is asked 
how he knows that in his flesh dwelleth no good thing, which 
means that sin dwells there, how but from his inherited mortality 
and from his addiction to pleasure? The former is the penalty of 
original sin, the latter of repeated sinning. We are born into this 
life with the former, and add to the latter as we live. These two 
things, nature and custom conjoined, render cupidity strong 
and unconquerable. This is what he calls sin which, he says, 
dwells in his flesh, obtaining a certain domination and king- 
dom, so to speak there. Hence the Psalmist says, “I would rather 
be a slave in the house of the Lord, than dwell in the tents of 
sinners 55 (Ps. 84:10), as if a slave does not dwell in the place 
where he is a slave. He no doubt means that “to dwell 55 must 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 381 

be understood as implying a certain rank. If by grace we achieve 
the condition described in another passage in these words, 
“That sin may not reign in our mortal body that we should obey 
the lusts thereof,” then sin cannot be said properly to dwell 
there. 

11. “To will is present with me, but to do that which is good 
I find not.” To those who do not rightly understand these 
words he seems by them to take away free will. Yet how does he 
do that when he says “To will is present with me”? If that is so, 
actual willing is certainly within our power; that it is not in our 
power to do that which is good is part of the deserts of original 
sin. This is not the original nature of man, but the penalty of his 
guilt, whereby mortality was brought in as a second nature, 
from which the grace of our Creator sets us free, if we submit 
ourselves to him by faith. These are the words of a man set 
under the law and not yet under grace. He who is not yet under 
grace does not do the good he wills but the evil which he does 
not will, being overcome by concupiscence which derives its 
strength from the fact, not simply that he is mortal, but also 
that he is burdened by the weight of custom. But if he does what 
he wills not, it is no longer he that does it, but the sin that dwells 
in him, as has been said and explained above. 

12. “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is 
present with me.” That is, I find the law is good for me when I 
wish to do what the law commands, though it is easier to do 
evil, which is present with me. When he said above “To will is 
present with me” he was referring to its facility . There is nothing 
easier for a man under the law than to will to do good and yet 
to do evil. He has no difficulty in willing, but it is not so easy to 
do what he wills. It is easy to do what he hates even against his 
will; just as a man thrown headlong has no difficulty in reaching 
the bottom, though he does not want to and indeed hates it. 
So I interpret the word “is present.” So the man set under the 
law and not yet liberated by grace gives testimony to the law 
that it is good. He does so by the very fact that he blames him- 
self for acting contrary to the law. He finds it a good thing for 
him, because he wants to do what it commands, but cannot 
because he is overcome by concupiscence. Thus he sees himself 
involved in the guilt of transgression, so that he may implore the 
grace of the Liberator. 

13. “I delight in the law of God after the inward man” that 
is, the law which says, “Thou shalt not covet.” “But I see an- 
other law in my members warring against the law of my mind, 



382 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in 
my members.” A “law in his members” is the name he gives to 
the burden of mortality under which we groan, being heavy- 
laden. A body which is corrupted burdens the soul. So it often 
happens that what is not right gives pleasure and cannot be 
resisted. This sorely pressing burden he calls a law, because it 
has been imposed as a punishment by the divine judgment, by 
God who gave man previous warning, saying, “In the day ye 
eat thereof ye shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). This law “warreth 
against the law of the mind” which says, “Thou shalt not 
covet.” In this law man rejoices after the inner man. But before 
he is under grace the other law so wars against his mind that it 
brings him into captivity under the law of sin, that is, under 
itself. In repeating “which is in my members” he shows that 
this is the same law as that referred to earlier as “another law 
in my members.” 

14. All this is said to show that a man who is thus taken cap- 
tive ought not to presume on his own strength. Paul rebuked the 
Jews for proudly glorying in the works of the law, though con- 
cupiscence attracted them to what was unlawful; since the law 
in which they gloried said, “Thou shalt not covet.” The man 
who is conquered, damned and taken captive, who is not vic- 
torious even though he has received the law but is rather made 
a transgressor, such a man must humbly cry, “O wretched man 
that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death? 
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In this 
mortal life one thing remains for free will, not that a man may 
fulfil righteousness when he wishes, but that he may turn with 
suppliant piety to him who can give the power to fulfil it. 

1 5. In this whole closely argued passage of the apostle which 
we have expounded, possibly some may think that the apostle 
feels that the law is an evil thing. There are also these other pas- 
sages: “The law came in that sin might abound” (Rom. 5:20); 
“The ministration of death engraved in letters of stone” 
(II Cor. 3:7); “The power of sin is the law” (I Cor. 15:56); “Ye 
are dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye may become 
the property of another, even of him who rose from the dead. 
. . . Sinful passions which were through the law wrought in our 
members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we have been 
discharged from the law of death wherein we were holden so 
that we may serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of 
the letter” (Rom. 7:4-6). And we can find other passages in the 
apostle of similar import. But notice, he does not mean to con- 



TO SIMPLICI AN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 383 

demn the law. He says these things because the law increases 
concupiscence by prohibiting it, and makes a man guilty as a 
transgressor of the law. The law commands what men in their 
infirmity are not able to fulfil, unless they turn piously to the 
grace of God. Those are said to be under the law over whom it 
exercises dominion, that is, those whom it punishes, and it 
punishes all transgressors. Those who have received the law 
break it, unless through grace they obtain power to do what it 
commands. So it is that the law does not exercise dominion over 
those who are under grace, and fulfil it by love, though they 
were condemned when they were under the fear of the law. 

16. If the apostle’s words induce us to think that he is finding 
fault with the law, what are we to make of these: “I delight in 
the law of God after the inward man”? He actually praises the 
law when he says that. But it may be replied that here the 
apostle is speaking of another law, the law of Christ, and not 
the law which was given to the Jews. So I ask which law is he 
speaking of when he says, “The law came that sin might 
abound.” They reply “No doubt, that which the Jews received.” 
Is he then speaking of the same law when he says, “Sin taking 
occasion by the commandment wrought all manner of con- 
cupiscence in me”? What is the difference between “wrought 
all manner of concupiscence in me,” and, “that sin might 
abound”? Observe also that that other statement is in complete 
agreement, “that sin by the commandment might become ex- 
ceeding sinful.” That is the same thing as “that sin might 
abound.” If we show that the commandment is a good thing 
from which sin took occasion to work all manner of concupiscence 
and to become exceeding sinful, we have shown at the same 
time that the law is good which came that sin might abound, 
i.e., might work all manner of concupiscence and become ex- 
ceeding sinful. Let them hear the apostle’s own words. “What 
shall we say, then? Is the law sin? God forbid.” This, they say, 
is said of the law of Christ, that is, of the law of grace. Then, 
what do they understand of what follows? “I had not known 
sin but by the law. I had not known concupiscence did not the 
law say, Thou shalt not covet. But sin took occasion through the 
commandment to work all manner of concupiscence in me.” 
The context of the words indicates sufficiently of what law he 
is speaking when he says, “Is the law sin? God forbid.” Ob- 
viously, the law by whose commandment occasion was given to 
sin to work ail manner of concupiscence; the law, therefore, 
which came in afterwards that sin might abound; the law which 



384 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

they suppose to be evil. What could be more clear than what he 
says soon after? “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, 
just and good.” Again they say this does not refer to the law 
given to the Jews, but is spoken of the Gospel. That is the un- 
speakably blind perversity of the Manichees. They pay no 
attention to the completely frank and clear sequel; “Was that 
which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it 
might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that 
which is good; that through the commandment sin might be- 
come exceeding sinful”; that is, by a commandment that was 
holy, just and good, which nevertheless came that sin might 
abound, i.e., become exceeding sinful. 

17. Why, then, if the law is good, is it called a “ministration 
of death”? Because “sin, that it might be shown to be sin, 
worked death for me through that which is good.” Do not mar- 
vel when it is said of the preaching of the Gospel, “We are a 
sweet savour of Christ unto God, in them that are being saved 
and in them who perish, to the one a savour of life to life, to the 
other a savour of death to death” (II Cor. 2:15-16). Now the 
law is called a “ministration of death” to the Jews, for whom it 
was written on stone, to symbolize their hardness of heart. But 
this does not apply to those who fulfil the law in charity. For 
charity is the fulfilment of the law (Rom. 13:10). The law which 
was graven with letters of stone says, “Thou shaft not commit 
adultery; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt 
not covet,” etc. That law the apostle says is fulfilled by charity. 
“He that loveth his neighbour hath fulfilled the law. For, Thou 
shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not 
steal; Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other command- 
ment, all are summed up in this word, Thou shalt love thy 
neighbour as thyself” (Rom. 13:8-9). For of course this, too, is 
written in the same law. Why, if the law is good, is it “the power 
of sin” (I Cor. 15:56)? Because sin wrought death by that which 
is good, that it might become exceeding sinful, i.e., might ac- 
quire greater powers by becoming also transgression. Why, if 
the law is good, are we “dead to the law by the body of Christ”? 
Because we are dead to the law’s condemnation, being set free 
from the disposition which the law condemns and punishes. 
The more usual practice is to speak of law as something that 
threatens, terrifies and punishes. So the same precept, which is 
law to those who fear it, is grace to those who love it. Hence the 
saying in the Gospel: “The law was given through Moses; grace 
and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The same law, 



TO SIMPLICI AN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 385 

that is, that was given through Moses to be feared, was made 
grace and truth by Jesus Christ so that it might be fulfilled. So 
the words, " ye are dead to the law, 55 should be taken to mean, 
ye are dead to the punishment threatened by the law through 
the body of Christ, through which are remitted the sins which 
bound us to the law’s punishments. If the law is good, why did 
"sinful passions, which were through the law, work in our mem- 
bers to bring forth fruit unto death” (Rom. 7:5)? Here he wants 
us to understood the sinful passions, of which I have already 
often spoken as an increase of concupiscence due to the pro- 
hibition, and as guiltily deserving punishment because of trans- 
gression. Death is wrought through that which is good that sin 
might become exceeding sinful by the commandment. If the 
law is good, why are we "set free from the law of death wherein 
we were holden, so that we may serve in newness of spirit and 
not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6)? The law is "letter” to 
those who do not fulfil it in the spirit of charity to which the New 
Testament belongs. So those who are dead to sin are freed from 
the letter, which holds guilty those who do not fully obey what 
is written. The law is nothing else than a "letter” to those who 
can read it but cannot fulfil it. It is not unknown to those for 
whom it was written. But because it is known merely in so far 
as it is written and not as something loved and performed, to 
such people it is nothing but "letter”; a "letter” which brings no 
aid to those who read it, but bears witness to their sins. Those 
who are renewed by the spirit are freed from its condemnation, 
so that they are no longer bound to the letter for punishment, 
but are joined to understanding through righteousness. Hence 
"the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (II Cor. 3:6). The 
law, when merely read and not understood or fulfilled, killeth. 
In that case it is called "the letter.” But the spirit giveth life, 
because the fulfilment of the law is charity "shed abroad in our 
hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). 

The Second Question. Romans 9:10-29 

1 . Now I think it is time to turn to the second question you have 
propounded, which concerns the interpretation of Romans 
9:10-29, from "Not only so, but Rebecca also conceived” down 
to "We had been made like unto Gomorrah.” You ask that the 
whole passage be discussed, and indeed it is rather obscure. But, 
to be sure, I know your regard for me and am certain that you 
would not bid me expound that passage unless you had prayed 

A.E.W.— 25 



386 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

the Lord to give me the ability to do so. With confidence in his 
help I approach the task. 

2. First I shall try to grasp the apostle’s purpose which runs 
through the whole Epistle, and I shall seek guidance from it. It 
is that no man should glory in meritorious works, in which the 
Israelites dared to glory, alleging that they had served the law 
that had been given to them, and that for that reason they had 
received evangelical grace as due to their merits. So they were 
unwilling that the same grace should be given to the Gentiles, 
as if they were unworthy of it unless they undertook to observe 
the Jewish sacred rites. This problem arose and is settled in the 
Acts of the Apostles. The Jews did not understand that evan- 
gelical grace, just because of its very nature, is not given as a 
due reward for good works. Otherwise grace is not grace. In 
many passages the apostle frequently bears witness to this, put- 
ting the grace of faith before works; not indeed that he wants to 
put an end to good works, but to show that works do not precede 
grace but follow from it. No man is to think that he has received 
grace because he has done good works. Rather he could not have 
done good works unless he had received grace through faith. A 
man begins to receive grace from the moment when he begins 
to believe in God, being moved to faith by some internal or 
external admonition. But the fullness and evidentness of the 
infusion of grace depends on temporal junctures and on sacra- 
mental rites. Catechumens are not unbelievers, otherwise 
Cornelius did not believe in God, although by his prayers and 
alms he showed himself worthy to have an angel sent to him. 
But these good deeds would have had no effect had he not 
already believed; and he would not have believed had he not 
been called by some secret admonition coming through visions 
of the mind or spirit, or by more open admonitions reaching him 
through the bodily senses. In some there is the grace of faith, 
but not enough to obtain the kingdom of heaven, as in cate- 
chumens, or in Cornelius himself before he was incorporated 
into the Church by participation in the sacraments. In others 
there is so much grace that they are already reputed to belong 
to the body of Christ and the holy temple of God. “The temple 
of God is holy,” says the apostle, “which temple ye are” (I Cor. 
3:17). And the Lord himself says: “Except a man be bom 
again of water and the Holy Spirit, he shall not enter into the 
kingdom of heaven” (John 3:5). There are therefore inchoate 
beginnings of faith, which resemble conception. It is not enough 
to be conceived. A man must also be born if he is to attain to 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 387 

eternal life. None of these beginnings is without the grace of 
God’s mercy. And good works, if there are any, follow and 
do not precede that grace, as has been said. 

3. This is the truth the aposde wanted to urge; just as in an- 
other passage he says, “By the grace of God we are saved, and 
that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God. It is not of works, lest 
any man should boast” (Eph. 2 :8, 9) . And so he gave a proof from 
the case of those who had not yet been born. No one could say 
that Jacob had conciliated God by meritorious works before he 
was born, so that God should say of him, “The elder shall serve 
the younger.” So “Not only so,” he says, was Isaac promised in 
the words, “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a 
son” (Rom. 9:9). Now Isaac had not conciliated God by any 
previous meritorious works so that his birth should have been 
promised, and that in Isaac “Abraham’s seed should be called” 
(Gen. 21:12). That means that those are to belong to the lot of 
the saints in Christ who know that they are the sons of promise; 
who do not wax proud of their merits, but account themselves 
co-heirs with Christ by the grace of their calling. When the 
promise was made that they should be this they did not as yet 
exist and so could have merited nothing. “Rebecca also having 
conceived by one, even by our father Isaac . . .” He is most 
careful to note that it was by one act of coition that twins were 
conceived so that nothing could be attributed to the merits of 
the father, as if someone might say the son was born such as he 
was because his father had such or such a disposition when he 
lay with his wife; or that his mother was disposed in such a way 
when she conceived a son. Both were begotten and conceived at 
one and the same time. And for another reason he stresses this 
fact, so as to give no opportunity to astrologers or to those who 
are called calculators of nativities, who conjecture the char- 
acters and destinies of those who are born from their natal hours. 
They can find absolutely no explantion why there was so great 
a diversity in these twins when they were conceived at one 
moment of time, and under the same position of the stars and 
the heavens, so that it was quite impossible to discover any thing 
wherein the one differed from the other. They can easily learn 
if they will that the replies they sell to poor deluded folk have 
no basis in any kind of scientific knowledge, but only in chance 
guess-work. But to return to the matter in hand, these things are 
related to break and cast down the pride of men who are not 
grateful for the grace of God but dare to glory in their own 
merits. “For the children being not yet born and having done 



AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 


388 

nothing either good or evil, not of works but of him that calleth, 
it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. 55 Grace is 
therefore of him who calls, and the consequent good works are 
of him who receives grace. Good works do not produce grace 
but are produced by grace. Fire is not hot in order that it may 
burn, but because it burns. A wheel does not run nicely in order 
that it may be round, but because it is round. So no one does 
good works in order that he may receive grace, but because he 
has received grace. How can a man live justly who has not been 
justified? How can he live holily who has not been sanctified? 
Or, indeed, how can a man live at all who has not been vivified? 
Grace justifies so that he who is justified may live justly. Grace, 
therefore, comes first, then good works. As he says in another 
place, “To him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of 
grace, but as of debt 55 (Rom. 4:4). There is, of course, the pas- 
sage where he speaks of immortality after good works, as if he 
really demands it as his due, for he says: “I have fought the good 
fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Hence- 
forth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the 
Lord the righteous judge, shall render to me at that day 55 (II 
Tim. 4:7-8). Do you think, perhaps, that because he said “shall 
render 55 he meant that it was his due? But when “he ascended 
on high and took captivity captive, he 55 did not render but 
“ gave gifts to men. 55 How could the apostle speak presump- 
tuously as of a debt being paid back to him, unless he had first 
received grace which was not due to him, being justified by 
which, he fought the good fight? For he was a blasphemer, a 
persecutor and injurious; but he obtained mercy as he testifies 
himself, believing in him who justifies, not the pious, but the 
ungodly, in order that by justifying him he may make him 
godly. 

4. “Not of works but of him that calleth it was said unto her, 
The elder shall serve the younger. 55 The point of this is made 
clear by the preceding words, “When they were not yet born 
and had done nothing either good or evil. 55 Clearly it was not of 
works but of him that calleth. But here we must inquire why he 
says, “That the purpose of God according to election might 
stand. 55 How can election be just, indeed how can there be any 
kind of election, where there is no difference? If Jacob was 
elected before he was born and before he had done anything at 
all, for no merit of his own, he could not have been elected at 
all, there being nothing to distinguish him for election. If Esau 
was rejected for no fault of his own because he too was not born 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 389 

and had done nothing when it was said, “The elder shall serve 
the younger,” how can his rejection be said to be just? How are 
we to understand what follows if we judge according to the stan- 
dards of equity? “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” 
Now that is written in the Prophet Malachi (1:2-3) w h° 
prophesied long after they were born and dead. Yet the 
sentence seems to be referred to which was spoken before they 
were born or had done anything. “The elder shall serve the 
younger.” But how could there be election, or what kind of 
election could there be, if there was no distinction of merits 
because they were not yet born and had done nothing? Possibly 
there was some distinction in their natures? Who could support 
such a conclusion, seeing that they sprang from one father, 
one mother, one act of intercourse, one creator? From the 
same land the same Creator can produce different kinds of 
living creatures. Can it be that the Creator produced from one 
human marriage and embrace twin offspring so diverse that he 
loved the one and hated the other? There would then be no 
election before that which was chosen existed. If Jacob was 
created good so that he might be loved, how could he be loved 
before he existed, in order that he might become good? Accord- 
ingly he was not elected that he might become good, but having 
been made good, he could be elected. 

5. Could it be “according to election” because God has fore- 
knowledge of all things, and foresaw the faith that was to be in 
Jacob even before he was born? No one merits justification by 
his good works, since unless he is justified he cannot do good 
works. Nevertheless God justifies the Gentiles by faith, and no 
one believes except of his own free will. So God, foreseeing that 
Jacob would believe of his own free will, by his foreknowledge 
elected to justify one not yet born? If election is by foreknow- 
ledge, and God foreknew Jacob’s faith, how do you prove that 
he did not elect him for his works? Neither Jacob nor Esau had 
yet believed, because they were not yet born and had as yet 
done neither good nor evil. But God foresaw that Jacob would 
believe? He could equally well have foreseen that he would do 
good works. So just as one says he was elected because God fore- 
knew that he was going to believe, another might say that it was 
rather because of the good works he was to perform, since God 
foreknew them equally well. How then does the apostle show 
that it was not of works that it was said, “The elder shall serve 
the younger”? If the reason for its not being of works was that 
they were not yet born, that applies also to faith; for before they 



390 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

were bom they had neither faith nor works. The apostle, there- 
fore, did not want us to understand that it was because of God’s 
foreknowledge that the younger was elected to be served by the 
elder. He wanted to show that it was not of works, and he 
stressed that by saying, “When they were not yet born and had 
done neither good nor evil.” He could have said, if he wished to, 
that God already knew what each was going to do. We have 
still to inquire why that election was made. It was not of works, 
because being not yet born they had done no works. But neither 
was it of faith, because they had not faith either. What, then, 
was the reason for it? 

6. Are we to say that there could have been no election unless 
there had been, even when they were in their mother’s womb, 
some difference of faith or works, or merit of some kind? But 
the apostle says, “That the purpose of God according to election 
might stand.” That is why we have to ask the question. Possibly 
we are to make a distinction here. Perhaps we should connect 
the words, “That the purpose of God according to election 
might stand,” with what precedes rather than with what fol- 
lows. It may mean not that the elder shall serve the younger in 
order that the purpose of God according to election may stand, 
but rather that children, who are not yet born and have done 
nothing, are given as an example that no election is here to be 
understood. If we read, “When they were not yet born and had 
done neither good nor evil, that the purpose of God according 
to election might stand,” it would mean that they had done 
neither good nor evil, so that there could be no election on 
account of his good deeds of the one who had done good. There 
could be no election on account of good works, according to 
which the purpose of God might stand. So, “not of works but 
of him that calleth,” that is, of God who justifies the ungodly by 
grace calling him to faith, “it was said to her, The elder shall 
serve the younger.” So that the purpose of God does not stand 
according to election, but election is the result of the purpose of 
God. That is to say, it is not because God finds good works in 
men so that he may elect them, that his justifying purpose 
stands; but because his purpose to justify them that believe 
stands, he consequently finds good works which he can elect for 
the kingdom of heaven. If there was no election there could be 
no elect, and it would have been wrong to say, “Who shall lay 
any charge against God’s elect?” (Rom. 8:33). Election does not 
precede justification, but follows it. No one is elected unless he 
is different from him who is rejected. It is written that “God 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 39I 

elected us before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). I do 
not see how that could be except by the way of foreknowledge. 
But here, when he says “Not of works but of him that calleth,” 
he wants us to understand that it is not by election through 
merits, but by the free gift of God, so that no man may exult in 
his good works. “By the grace of God are we saved; and that not 
of ourselves; for it is the gift of God, not of works that no man 
should glory” (Eph. 2:8). 

7. But the question is whether faith merits a man’s justifica- 
tion, whether the merits of faith do not precede the mercy of 
God; or whether, in fact, faith itself is to be numbered among the 
gifts of grace. Notice that in this passage when he said, “Not of 
works,” he did not say, “but of faith it was said to her, The 
elder shall serve the younger.” No, he said, “but of him that 
calleth.” No one believes who is not called. God calls in his 
mercy, and not as rewarding the merits of faith. The merits of 
faith follow his calling rather than precede it. “How shall they 
believe whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear 
without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). Unless, therefore, the mercy 
of God in calling precedes, no one can even believe, and so 
begin to be justified and to receive power to do good works. So 
grace comes before all merits. Christ died for the ungodly. The 
younger received the promise that the elder should serve him 
from him that calleth and not from any meritorious works of 
his own. So the Scripture “Jacob have I loved” is true, but it 
was of God who called and not of Jacob’s righteous works. 

8. What then of Esau, of whom it is written that “he shall 
serve the younger,” and “Esau have I hated”? How could he 
have merited this by evil deeds of his own doing, since these 
things were spoken before he was born, and before he had done 
aught of good or evil? Possibly, just as Jacob received the 
promise without any meritorious acts of his own, so Esau was 
hated though he had done no evil to merit hatred. If God pre- 
destined Esau to serve his younger brother because he foreknew 
the evil works that he was to do, he must also have predestined 
Jacob to be served by his elder brother because he foreknew 
his future good works. In that case it would be false to say that 
it was not of works. If it is true that it was not of works — and 
that is proved by the fact that it was said before they were born 
and before they had done any works at all — or of faith — for 
again, similarly, there could be no faith in children not yet born 
—how did Esau deserve to be hated before he was born? That 
God made one he was to love is unquestionably true. But it is 



392 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

absurd to say that he made some one he was going to hate. For 
another Scripture says, “Thou abhorrest none of the things which 
thou didst make; for never wouldest thou have formed anything 
if thou didst hate it” (Wisdom 11:24). By what merit did the 
sun deserve to be made as it is? How did the moon offend so 
as to be made so much inferior? How did the moon earn the 
right to be made so much brighter than the other stars? All 
these were created good each in its own kind. God would not 
say “The sun have I loved, but the moon I have hated,” or 
“The moon have I loved, but the stars have I hated,” as he 
said “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” He loved 
them all though he ordained them in different degrees of excel- 
lence, for God saw that they were good when they were created 
at his Word. That he hated Esau is unjust unless the hatred was 
merited by injustice on Esau’s part. If we admit this, then 
Jacob must be loved because he had merited to be loved by his 
justice. And if that is true, it is false to say that it was not of 
works. Could it possibly be from the righteousness of faith? But 
what support for that view can you get from the words, “When 
they were not yet born”? Not even the righteousness of faith 
can exist in one who is not yet born. 

9. The apostle saw the questions that might arise in the 
mind of the hearer or reader of these words, and so he immedi- 
ately added, “What shall we say, then? Is there unrighteousness 
with God? God forbid.” And as if to teach us how there is no 
unrighteousness, he goes on, “For he saith to Moses, I will have 
mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show compassion 
to him on whom I will have compassion.” Does he solve the 
question in these words or at least narrow it down? If God will 
have mercy on whom he will have mercy and show compassion to 
whom he will show compassion, our chief difficulty remains, 
which is, why did his mercy fail in Esau’s case? Why was not 
Esau too made good by God’s mercy as Jacob was made 
good? Perhaps the real import of the words is this. If God will 
have mercy on a man so as to call him, he will also have mercy 
on him so that he may believe; and on him on whom he in 
mercy bestows faith he will show compassion, i.e., will make him 
compassionate, so that he may also perform good works. So we 
are admonished that no one ought to glory or exult in his works 
of mercy as if he had propitiated God by meritorious works of his 
own. God gave him the power to be merciful when he showed 
compassion on whom he would show compassion. If anyone 
boasts that he has merited compassion by his faith, let him know 



TO SIMPLIGI AN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 393 

that God gave him faith. God shows compassion by inspiring 
faith in one on whom he had compassion in giving to one who 
was still an unbeliever a share in his calling. For already the 
believer is distinguished from the ungodly. “What hast thou 
that thou didst not receive? But if thou didst receive it, why dost 
thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it (I Cor. 4:7)? 

10. This is all right, but why was this mercy withheld from 
Esau, so that he was not called and had not faith inspired in him 
when called, and was not by faith made compassionate so that 
he might do good works? Was it because he was unwilling? If 
Jacob had faith because he willed it, then God did not give him 
faith as a free gift, but Jacob gave it to himself, and so had some- 
thing which he did not receive. Or can no one believe unless he 
wills, or will unless he is called, and can no one be called unless 
God by calling him also gives him faith? For no one can believe 
unless he is called, although none can believe against his will. 
“How shall they believe whom they have not heard? And how 
shall they hear without a preacher?” No one, therefore, be- 
lieves who has not been called, but not all believe who have 
been called. “For many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 
22:14). The chosen are those who have not despised him who 
calls, but have believed and followed him. There is no doubt 
that they believed willingly. What then of what follows? “So then 
it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God 
that hath mercy.” Does it mean that we cannot even will unless 
we are called, and that our willing is of no avail unless God give 
us aid to perform it? We must both will and run. It would not 
be said in vain, “On earth peace to men of good will” (Luke 
2:14). And, “Even so run that ye may attain” (I Cor. 9:24). 
But it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of 
God that hath mercy, that we obtain what we wish and reach 
what we desire. Esau, then, was unwilling and did not run. Had 
he been willing and had he run, he would have obtained the 
help of God who by calling him would have given him the 
power both to will and to run, had he not been reprobate by 
despising the calling. There are two different things that God 
gives us, the power to will and the thing that we actually will. 
The power to will he has willed should be both his and ours, his 
because he calls us, ours because we follow when called. But 
what we actually will he alone gives, i.e., the power to do right 
and to live happily for ever. But Esau was not yet born and con- 
sequently could be neither willing nor unwilling in all these 
matters. Why was he rejected when he was still in the womb? 



394 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

We come back to that difficulty, troubled not only by the ob- 
scurity of the question but also by our own abundant repetition. 

11. Why was Esau rejected when he was not yet born and 
could neither believe him who called, nor despise his calling, 
nor do aught either good or evil? If it was because God fore- 
knew that his will was to be evil in the future, why was not 
Jacob approved because God foreknew that his will was to be 
good? If you admit that anyone could have been approved or 
rejected for some quality he did not yet possess, but because God 
foreknew that he would possess it in the future, it follows that he 
could also have been approved for the works which God fore- 
knew that he would perform some day, though he had as yet 
performed none of them. You will get no support at all for that 
view from the fact that they were not bom when it was said, 
“The elder shall serve the younger. 55 You will not be able to show 
from that that, because neither of them had done any works, it 
could be said that the call was not “of works. 55 

12. If you pay close attention to these words, “Therefore it is 
not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God 
that hath mercy, 55 you will see that the apostle said that, not 
only because we attain what we wish by the help of God, but 
also with the meaning which he expresses in another passage, 
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is 
God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good 
pleasure 55 (Phil. 2:12, 13). There he clearly shows that the good 
will itself is wrought in us by the working of God. If he said, “It 
is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God 
that hath mercy, 55 simply because a man’s will is not sufficient 
for us to live justly and righteously unless we are aided by the 
mercy of God, he could have put it the other way round and 
said, “It is not of God that hath mercy, but of the man that 
willeth, 55 because it is equally true that the mercy of God is not 
sufficient of itself, unless there be in addition the consent of our 
will. Clearly it is vain for us to will unless God have mercy. But 
I do not know how it could be said that it is vain for God to have 
mercy unless we willingly consent. If God has mercy, we also 
will, for the power to will is given with the mercy itself. It is God 
that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. 
If we ask whether a good will is a gift of God, I should be sur- 
prised if anyone would venture to deny that. But because the 
good will does not precede calling, but calling precedes the good 
will, the fact that we have a good will is rightly attributed to 
God who calls us, and the fact that we are called cannot be 



TO SIMPLICIAN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 395 

attributed to ourselves. So the sentence, “It is not of him that 
willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy” 
cannot be taken to mean simply that we cannot attain what we 
wish without the aid of God, but rather that without his calling 
we cannot even will. 

13. But if that calling is the effectual cause of the good will so 
that every one who is called follows it, how will it be true that 
“ Many are called but few are chosen”? If this is true, and con- 
sequently not everyone who is called obeys the call, but has it 
in the power of his will not to obey, it could be said correctly 
that it is not of God who hath mercy, but of the man who wil- 
leth and runneth, for the mercy of him that calleth is not 
sufficient unless the obedience of him who is called follows. Pos- 
sibly those who are called in this way, and do not consent, might 
be able to direct their wills towards faith if they were called in 
another way; so that it would be true that “Many are called but 
few are chosen.” Many, that is to say, are called in one way, 
but all are not affected in the same way; and those only follow 
the calling" who are found fit to receive it. It would be no less 
true that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, 
but of God that hath mercy.” For God calls in the way that is 
suited to those who follow his calling. The call comes also to 
others; but because it is such that they cannot be moved by it 
and are not fitted to receive it, they can be said to be called but 
not chosen. And again it would not be true that it is not of God 
who hath mercy but of man who willeth and runneth. For the 
effectiveness of God’s mercy cannot be in the power of man to 
frustrate, if he will have none of it. If God wills to have mercy on 
men, he can call them in a way that is suited to them, so that 
they will be moved to understand and to follow. It is true, 
therefore, that many are called but few chosen. Those are 
chosen who are effectually [ congruenter ] called. Those who are 
not effectually called and do not obey their calling are not 
chosen, for although they were called they did not follow. 
Again it is true that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him 
that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.” For, although he 
calls many, he has mercy on those whom he calls in a way 
suited to them so that they may follow. But it is false to say that 
“it is not of God who hath mercy but of man who willeth and 
runneth,” because God has mercy on no man in vain. He calls 
the man on whom he has mercy in the way he knows will suit 
him, so that he will not refuse the call. 

14. Here someone will say, why was not Esau called in such 



396 AUGUSTINE: EARLIER WRITINGS 

a way that he would be willing to obey? We see that people are 
variously moved to believe when the same facts are shown or 
explained to them. For example, Simeon believed in our Lord 
Jesus Christ when he was still a little child, for the Spirit re- 
vealed the truth to him. Nathanael heard but one sentence from 
him, “Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig 
tree I saw thee” (John 1:48); and he replied, “Rabbi, thou art 
the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.” Long after, Peter 
made the same confession, and for that merit heard himself 
pronounced blessed, and that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven 
were to be given to him. His disciples believed on him when by 
a miracle in Cana of Galilee water was turned into wine, which 
the evangelist John records as the beginning of the signs of 
Jesus. He stirred many to believe by his words, but many did 
not believe though the dead were raised. Even his disciples were 
terrified and shattered by his cross and death, but the thief be- 
lieved at the very moment when he saw him not highly exalted 
but his own equal in sharing in crucifixion. One of his disciples 
after his resurrection believed, not so much because his body 
was alive again, as because of his recent wounds. Many of those 
who crucified him, who had despised him while he was working 
his miracles, believed when his disciples preached him and did 
similar miracles in his name. Since, then, people are brought to 
faith in such different ways, and the same thing spoken in one 
way has power to move and has no such power when spoken in 
another way, or may move one man and not another, who would 
dare to affirm that God has no method of calling whereby even 
Esau might have applied his mind and yoked his will to the 
faith in which Jacob was justified? But if the obstinacy of the 
will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of 
calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very 
hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God 
abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he 
might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the 
Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to 
believe? 

15. But why do we ask such a question? The apostle himself 
goes on. “The Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very pur- 
pose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, 
and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth.” 
The apostle adds this as an example to prove what he had said 
above, that “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that run- 
neth, but of God that hath mercy.” As if some one had said to 



TO SIMPLICI AN — ON VARIOUS QUESTIONS 397 

him, What is the source of this doctrine of yours? His reply is 
“The Scripture saith unto Pharaoh” etc. Thus he shows that it